THE BLOG
08/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"Don't Be Mad at Me for Wanting to Solve the Problem"

Why the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act" Makes Such Good Sense

We can all see the enormous impact the economic crisis is having on American families. Factories have closed. Those who rely on second and third jobs are finding them harder to come by. People are losing their homes. Every day, families have to make decisions about what they have to cut in order to make ends meet. Sadly, it is unlikely to get any better soon.

When an unplanned pregnancy intervenes, it makes the cycle of poverty even more difficult to escape. Yet, as a society, we have so far failed to provide a simple and economically smart fix.

For many, family planning is regarded as a luxury and when times are tough can be one of the first expenses to be cut. Following eight years of neglect and outright hostility, the nation's sexuality education programs are in dire need of reform. Many jurisdictions now promote abstinence-only programs that do little to educate and protect, let alone prepare our teenagers and young people for a healthy sex life. But in an economic crisis, it is precisely these types of programs that are vitally important. They can give people the opportunity to get back on their feet and seize any opportunities that come their way--whether they are educational or work related.

As a recent Guttmacher and UNFPA study noted, contraceptive and maternal health services reduce poverty levels, increase productivity and economic benefits, reduce health care and social costs, as well as improve education and health outcomes for children. So, why the delay?

Some recent polling shows that President Obama's popularity is waning. We are all familiar with the problems associated with such polling, but we can be sure that if somebody with the popularity ratings of President Obama is feeling the pinch, it won't be long before Congress is too. Congress needs to act, and act fast. People are expressing frustration with the lack of movement on health care--and they include family planning assistance in that. The electorate can reasonably expect some movement on these issues. They want to see real solutions and real action.

Some real action is now on the horizon. An extraordinary relationship between Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) has been forged that will both help people avoid unplanned pregnancies and assist those who choose to continue a pregnancy. While they are both Democrats and Catholic, they overcame many ideological and political differences. When they came together he was a leader in the prolife caucus and she was a leader in the prochoice caucus, yet they crafted a piece of health care legislation because they knew it was the right thing to do.

They didn't seek common ground, they sought common sense. For doing that, Ryan has been demonized for supporting family planning programs by some on the fringes, including the antichoice group Democrats for Life of America (about which Catholics for Choice has written a report.) As Ryan noted at the time, "We're working in Congress with groups that agree with preventative options while [the DFLA] is getting left behind. I can't figure out for the life of me how to stop pregnancies without contraception. Don't be mad at me for wanting to solve the problem."

The bill, the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act," has many important elements. It:

• Increases funding for the federal Title X program
• Restores family planning to mandatory status for Medicaid benchmark plans
• Amends Medicaid to give states the option of extending coverage for family planning services and supplies to women who would be entitled to Medicaid-funded prenatal, labor, delivery and postpartum care
• Funds comprehensive sexuality education, with preference given to programs that provide age-appropriate, evidenced-based information, including information on contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections

But Representatives Ryan and DeLauro do not stop at contraception and sex education. The bill also supports men and women who want to have children. It provides resources for new parents, which will help them navigate the challenges of raising children, and includes language that makes key changes in the private health care market that would remove pregnancy as a pre-existing condition and require coverage of maternity care.

The bill has also attracted some unusual supporters, with some Catholic groups who are historically shy of publicly supporting family planning on the list including NETWORK and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (about which CFC has also written a report). Antiabortion activist Rev. Jim Wallis is also down as a supporter, as is Rev. Joel Hunter. While I have political and ideological differences with all these groups and individuals, I am delighted to see them supporting the bill. It is a testament to the work done by Representatives Ryan and DeLauro that they have attracted such a diverse group.

Not everybody agrees with the bill. The nation's 400 Catholic bishops have not signed on. However, we should remember that their 400 votes count for little when taken beside the nation's 67.5 million Catholics--the majority of whom will support the bill's provisions. When asked about the bishops' opposition, DeLauro's response was quick and to the point. Noting the primacy that the church places on the issue of conscience, she said, "American Catholics have moved forward on this issue with regard to birth control and contraception."

Many Republicans have also demurred. Historically, Republicans have been supportive of family planning. It makes economic sense. It reduces state intervention into the family and gives them the right to decide when and whether to have children. Indeed the first President Bush was an ardent supporter of family planning when he was first in Congress. Today, many Republicans in Congress are in thrall to extremists on the religious right, unwilling to break free from their obsession with making empty statements about abortion and contraception.

This bill is not about making a statement. It's about making a difference to the lives and prospects of those living in poverty. We can all sign onto that.

We need to see more people come on board, regardless of their religious or political affiliations. Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, Catholics and Evangelicals, Jews, atheists and Muslims should all be able to see the benefits of this bill.

This bill gives them an opportunity to take a common-sense stance that supports American families in their struggles to escape the worst economic crisis in living memory. There is no excuse for Democrats, who have long touted their support for family planning and anti-poverty measures. But we can be sure that we will not be alone in watching the progress of this Bill. And forgiveness may be a long time coming for those who choose to vote against American families.