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Time to End the War on Contraception

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Okay. The election is over, the new year has started in earnest, a new Congress has been sworn in and state legislatures across the country are preparing to reconvene. It is time to close the partisan divide and end the silliest war on the planet: the war on contraception.

There should be, and always will be, issues that divide the nation, but contraception should not be one of them. Not even close. If ever there was an issue that should unite people on both sides of the aisle, family planning has to be it.

When leading political figures start musing publicly about "the dangers of contraception," as former Senator Rick Santorum did during the fight for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, you know you have entered the bizarre, surrealistic world of presidential politics, in which candidates say patently ludicrous things to energize a narrow segment of primary voters.

But that's all over. We have a year or two before the next presidential campaign begins in earnest. It's time for politicians everywhere to come to their collective senses and halt the absolutely senseless assault on women and their reproductive health. And that applies with a special urgency to Texas.

Two years ago, spurred on by their opposition to abortion, Texas state legislators voted to slash state support for family planning clinics by two-thirds. With the active support of Gov. Rick Perry, the legislature also barred funding altogether for Planned Parenthood clinics because of the organization's support for abortion rights, even though the clinics themselves were not providing abortion services.

These actions, of course, have forced the closure of family planning clinics in Texas and limited the access that women have to contraceptive services. In turn, that will increase the number of unplanned pregnancies and increase the number of women seeking abortion services in Texas. A "lose-lose" proposition, if ever there was one.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is telling the legislature that during the 2014-15 biennium poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have, as a result of their reduced access to state-subsidized family planning services. The increased cost to taxpayers could be as high as $273 million, far in excess of the $73 million a year that was saved by cutting support for family planning clinics.

With the Texas legislature preparing to reconvene, it's time for the legislators to reverse course and end this senseless war on contraception. If the Philippines, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, can pass legislation, as it did late last year, guaranteeing women free access to contraceptive services, surely Texas can halt its senseless assault on family planning clinics.

The same logic should apply in Washington, D.C. In the last Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash support for international family planning by 25 percent, and abolish Title X, the federal program making family planning services available to low-income households. While the GOP-led House failed, for the most part, in its efforts to trim federal support for family planning, the attacks are almost certain to be renewed in the new Congress.

If Republican legislators in Washington and elsewhere are looking for ways to bridge the party's gender gap, there's probably no better way to do it than by rethinking its position on family planning. Juleanna Glover, a leading Republican strategist, recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which she said that House Republicans should "outflank" Obama and Democrats in Congress by boosting funding for Title X, rather than seeking to abolish it. She argues, persuasively, that no woman should find herself pregnant because she cannot afford effective contraception.

Yep. It's time to end the war on contraception.