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Et tu, Barack?

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For breaking news on threats to birth control access and information visit birthcontrolwatch.org

Yesterday, the Republicans, accompanied by a sadly uninformed media, led a frenzied bitch fest over the inclusion of a family planning provision in the Democrats' stimulus package. That provision, a mere $200 million of a $825 billion stimulus package, which represents 1/4 of 1%, or 0.225%, of the overall budget, offered a safety net for Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance.

But the ideology-plagued Republicans, and their media enablers, couldn't seem to figure out why unemployed Americans without health insurance would possibly want, or need, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. They seemed mystified that a surprise addition of a new family member could batter a no-income family financially, or when multiplied exponentially, a state, and work against everything a stimulus package is supposed to stimulate. Rep. John Boehner wondered aloud, "How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?"

News story after news story reports that many Americans suffering through the collapse of the economy (like the 71,000 who were laid off yesterday) are, among other lifestyle changes, postponing having a child. Planning when to have a child based on whether you can support one seems like a pretty common sense approach. It could even be described as "responsible" which, you will recall, was the overarching theme of our new president's inaugural speech. One small part of the stimulus package the Democrats presented offered this family planning safety net for Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance. The staged Republican freak-out revealed the degree to which they are out-of-touch with Americans' lives, as if we needed another reminder. The more disturbing part is how quickly President Obama surrendered to this pressure. Without a single attempt to explain the importance of family planning in the lives of struggling Americans, the White House distanced itself from the provision. After a day of bizarre media misinterpretation of the proposal, Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, told Cybercast News Service that it was not Obama's idea and that "the principles of what he thought should be in the package--that wasn't part of that."

Yet just last Friday Obama, in a statement accompanying his rescinding of the Global Gag Rule, recognized the importance family planning plays in "promoting global economic development" and promised "In the coming weeks, my Administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning." Unless he meant fresh as in impudent and presumptuous, I'm confused. If family planning can promote economic development globally, why won't it here?

Experts say, it would. According Cory Richards, VP of Public Policy at the Guttmacher Institute, wrote on RH Reality Check,

"Assisting states with their Medicaid programs is a proven and effective strategy for stimulating the economy in times of economic distress. That's why the stimulus package contains $87 billion to help states with Medicaid costs. One can only assume that Rep. Boehner's singling out for criticism the Medicaid spending for contraception is politically motivated.

Not only is it politically motivated, it is highly ironic coming from a self-described fiscal conservative who repeatedly says the stimulus package should include spending that doesn't increase the deficit. When the Congressional Budget Office assessed a virtually identical provision in 2007, it found that it would save the federal government $200 million over five years by helping women voluntarily avoid pregnancies that otherwise would result in Medicaid-funded births. An expansion such as the one permitted by the stimulus package could save Rep. Boehner's state of Ohio $1.4 million in 2009 - money that could make a real difference in a hard-hit state that is struggling with significant budget shortfalls."

The Republican opposition to the family planning provision is without merit but does serve as a perfect tool to misrepresent a thoughtful stimulus package; one that takes in to consideration real people's lives. And this misrepresentation found a bullhorn in a media that
likes to go light on the facts, especially with regard to reproductive health. (The Republicans and the media, both of which like to think of themselves as loyal opposition, may make a powerful, reckless, and frightening pair.) On his show, Chris Matthews compared the family planning provision in the stimulus package to China's coercive abortion policy stating:

"I don't know. It sounds a little like China. I think everybody should have family planning and everybody believes in birth control as a right. I'm for -- abortion is a right and all that. It's all right. But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the number of births?"

On Fox News, Neil Cavuto bizarrely argued that unwanted pregnancies are good for the economy because, "You want more people eventually in this country paying into social security because you have more people retiring."

James Pethokoukis, blogger for US News and World Reports, abandoned all journalistic integrity when covering the stimulus package and got all misty-eyed about unwanted pregnancy, stating "This is wrong on so many levels, one of which is looking at children born to the "wrong people" as economic burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits. Wow." Wow is right, this guy writes for US News and World Reports? Guess those layoffs in the publishing industry weren't broad enough.

After suffering through eight years of attacks on contraception, we come out the other end with surging teen birth rates in 26 states and increases in STDs. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that the cost to taxpayers (federal, state, and local) of teen childbearing in the United States in 2004 alone was $9.1 billion. We know that for every dollar invested in family planning the federal government saves $4. The Republican distortion campaign will, sadly, prevent Americans from understanding what they already know -- especially in hard economic times family planning makes sense.

Update: Today, the House Democrats announced they were dropping the contraception provision from the bill.

This post originally appeared on RH Reality Check--Information, commentary and community for Reproductive Health and Justice.

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