08/15/2012 04:29 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2012

Pro-Life Advocates Should Support Family Planning

Pro-life advocates should hold fundraisers for family planning providers, such as Planned Parenthood, not lobby to defund them. Access to family planning, including effective contraception, has been shown to reduce abortions. This isn't complicated. Increasing family planning services reduces the number of unintended pregnancies, which reduces the number of abortions. Decreasing family planning services increases unintended pregnancies, which increases abortions, as well as maternal deaths, and infant and child deaths. Public health policies that increase family planning make moral as well as fiscal sense, as unintended pregnancies come at a cost to taxpayers. Ultimately, cutting family planning services creates the very problem pro-life advocates seek to eliminate.

If you want to reduce the number of abortions, you must reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. According to a 2011 study, 43 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. (Intended pregnancies account for approximately 4% of abortions.) In their 2008 abortion surveillance report, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that "providing women with the knowledge and resources necessary to make decisions about their sexual behavior and use of contraception can help them avoid unintended pregnancies and thus reduce the number of women seeking abortion."

Indeed, when women are able to access and taught to correctly use contraception, the Guttmacher Institute estimates the percent of unintended pregnancies plummets to 5 percent. A lack of available family planning services, however, continues to disproportionately punish the poor. Though most subgroups of women experienced decreases in abortion between 2000 and 2008, the abortion rate among poor women increased by 17.5 percent, as their rate of unintended pregnancy climbed to more than five times greater than high-income women.

Funding family planning is not only good public health policy to reduce abortions; it is also good fiscal policy. Women who are uninsured or underinsured depend on publicly-funded family planning through Medicaid and the Title X Family Planning program, which was established by President Nixon and a bipartisan Congress in 1970. Mitt Romney argues that slashing Title X will slash spending. The opposite is true. The Center on Children and Families of the Brookings Institution estimates that the annual cost of unintended pregnancies is between $9.6 and $12.6 billion. Preventing unintended pregnancies, according to the Center's researchers, will save taxpayers as much as $6.2 billion. As a counter-example to Romney's vision, California's Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment (PACT) Program provides publicly-funded family planning services, including contraception. In 2007, Family PACT helped women avert an estimated 296,200 unintended pregnancies and 122,200 abortions, which corresponds to an estimated total-cost savings of $1.88 billion (from conception until age two) and $4.05 billion (from conception to age five).

When family planning programs are eliminated, the outcome is hardly "pro-life." Linda Whiteford, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida, has written about the consequences of withholding $170 million over five years (2001-2006) from the international family planning initiative of the United Nations Population Fund. The results of this "pro-life" policy, according to Whiteford, were "10 million unwanted pregnancies, 4 million induced abortions, 23,500 maternal deaths, [and] 385,000 infant and children deaths." On the other hand, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers have shown that increasing family planning and contraceptive use has decreased maternal deaths by 40 percent in developing countries by reducing unintended pregnancies and, thus, reducing high-risk pregnancies and increasing space between pregnancies. Family planning initiatives are pro-life initiatives.

When politicians threaten to get rid of family planning services, including Planned Parenthood, they threaten to increase unintended pregnancies and abortions. Planned Parenthood's core service is providing effective and consistent contraception. In 2010, contraception accounted for 33.5 percent of Planned Parenthood's affiliate medical services. By providing family planning services to nearly 2.2 million patients, Planned Parenthood estimates averting approximately 584,000 unintended pregnancies and 277,000 abortions. Nearly 50 percent of Planned Parenthood's patients relied on Medicaid, which provides 75 percent of public funding for family planning. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, however, Paul Ryan's proposal to turn Medicaid into a state-controlled block grant would jeopardize the ability of poor women to access health care services. We know already that poor women are exposed to a high risk for unintended pregnancy and abortion. Cutting access to family planning, and rejecting the CDC's recommendations, only undermines the pro-life agenda at both a heavy fiscal and moral cost.