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Vasectonomics

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"Why are we suddenly having an explosion in guys asking for vasectomies?" This is a question Dr. Steven Jones' staff asks him a lot lately, the Cleveland Urologist told CNN. Dr. Marc Goldstein, a New York-based urologist in practice for over thirty years, told the network, "I have never seen anything like this. When things started to go south in the stock market, then the vasectomy consults went north." The folks over at vasectomy.com no doubt were pleased for snagging that most awesome domain name. Little did they know a bad economy would provide their payday; the number of appointment requests through their site spiked 30 percent in January.

It's not just men who are suddenly concerned about their family's future. Consumers are spending more money on all types of contraceptives, according to the Nielson Company. Indeed, the embrace of family planning appears to be a critical step in financial planning. Nielson said sales of over-the-counter contraceptives jumped a dazzling 10.2 percent in the first two months of the year. The company reports that, while other retail sales slip, condom sales jumped up 5% in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 6% in January, compared with the same time periods last year. Sales of Essure, a non-invasive, irreversible birth control method for women were up also, 28% over last year's sales.

Planned Parenthood clinics, the leading provider of contraception in the country, also report increased traffic over the past several months, according to Tait Sye, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "There's no question we're seeing increased traffic at most clinics, and many clinics report an increase in new patients as well," Sye said. A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa told the local TV news the number of women in the state asking for access to birth control is up nearly 40 percent.

So much for contraception being a non-sequitur in discussions about the economy. Just a couple of months ago, Congressional Republicans, fresh from their first meeting with Obama, stood snickering before the press about the inclusion of a family planning provision in the president's emergency economic plan. What does birth control have to do with the economy? they chided, suggesting Obama might be trying to sneak a liberal social program by them. Minority Leader Representative John Boehner protested, "Regardless of where anyone stands on taxpayer funding for contraceptives and the abortion industry, there is no doubt that this once little-known provision in the congressional Democrats' spending plan has NOTHING (emphasis his) to do with fixing the economy and creating more American jobs. " It was lost on the Republicans, many of whom oppose contraception for 'moral' reasons, that rational people facing hazardous economic times need to control the number of children they have to support. And, by the way, that kind of responsible behavior is good for the economy which can hardly afford the social programs to support families who can't make it on their own. (Republicans are supposedly for responsibility except...when they're not.)

Boehner might want to check in with that Joe the Plumber demographic who, if recent trends are any indicator, not only considers contraception a great form of protection against uncertain times but is opting for the permanent form at that. (And for any Joe without insurance that vasectomy will cost between $500-$1000, probably twice as much as his tax cut. The contraception provision in the stimulus package would have extended coverage for this kind of contraceptive and others to those earning above 200% of the federal poverty level. So Joe, when you lay out that stack of cash don't forget to thank Boehner who thinks your decision to prevent an unaffordable pregnancy is too silly to cover.)

The Salt Lake Tribune recently interviewed a local couple in their twenties who see pregnancy prevention as key to their family's survival. They have two kids, 2 years old and 3 months, and were attending a state insurance fair to sign up for health insurance. He works two part-time jobs and she stays at home caring for the kids. Money is a constant worry-- he foregoes medications to pay for diapers and the electric bill. She explained that they are being "way more careful" about preventing pregnancy. The couple is hoping to qualify for government insurance in order to get birth control. "I just worry if the economy is going to get worse. I would starve myself before my kids [go hungry]. What if it gets so bad I don't have food for them?" Cut to eye-rolling Congressional Republicans.

Family planning is nothing less than a foundation on which many Americans build sturdy, responsible lives. Regardless of political affiliation, that's exactly what many are struggling to do right now. Those who have lost their jobs and health insurance are in great need of family planning. They're also, alarmingly, the ones with the least access to it. Meanwhile Republicans openly mock attempts to include family planning as a part of the economic recovery, actively work to defund Planned Parenthood, promote policies that encourage health care workers to deny patients access to contraception, and defend programs that withhold basic information about contraception to sexually active teens. (Then they're baffled to find the number of teen parents spiked during the Bush years.)

Family planning is an American family value and, as national data indicate, something we rely on in our greatest times of need. Attacks on our right to plan our families shred the social safety net. The Republicans are welcome to titter and heckle the next time a proposal to support family planning crosses their desks. Doing so will only reveal how astoundingly out of touch they are from American's real lives and needs.