Republicans in Congress have taken up the cause, once again, of defunding Planned Parenthood. Apparently emboldened by a recent right-wing smear campaign targeting Planned Parenthood, GOP lawmakers have promised to stop at nothing in their quest to shut down the nation’s largest provider of reproductive and sexual health care.
While their latest attempt to defund the organization failed in the Senate last week, you can be sure that the political attacks on Planned Parenthood are far from over. In fact, an astonishing 18 anti-abortion lawmakers vowed last week to shut down the entire federal government rather than allow a single dollar of federal funds to go to Planned Parenthood. (It’s important to note that none of that funding goes to supporting Planned Parenthood’s abortion services in the first place.)
But as NPR revealed in a fact-check this week, defunding Planned Parenthood could have major consequences, including disproportionately impacting low-income Americans — who comprise a large majority of Planned Parenthood’s patients — and costing taxpayers significantly more money in the long-run. (This, of course, is in addition to the devastating public health fallout.) Pointing to a letter from the Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall, the NPR report explained that although the CBO has yet to come to a “firm conclusion” on the matter, defunding the organization “could have led to more spending (not to mention more unplanned pregnancies)”:
Title X and Medicaid are programs that target low- to middle-income Americans, and many of Planned Parenthood’s patients are likewise lower-income. As of 2012, 79 percent of people receiving services from Planned Parenthood lived at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower (that comes out to around $18,500 for a single adult), according to a March Government Accountability Office report.
Defunding the group might cut some spending and accomplish one Republican anti-abortion goal, but it could also backfire, as Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall wrote this week in a letter addressing S. 1881.
Though the CBO didn’t do a full, formal analysis of the bill, Hall pointed out that while the bill could cut government spending, it could also increase it. While displacing Title X funding from Planned Parenthood to other clinics, the bill could have cut Medicaid spending as some beneficiaries might fail or decide not to seek out family planning services at other clinics. But on the other hand, it could have led to more spending (not to mention more unplanned pregnancies):
“CBO also expects that some of the services that would not be used if S. 1881 was enacted would include those that help women avert pregnancies and deliveries. Reduced use of such services would be expected to lead to additional births, increasing federal spending, primarily for Medicaid. In addition, some of those children would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs.”
It’s impossible to dispute the basic math here. In 2010, Title X-funded clinics in the U.S. averted 1.7 million unwanted pregnancies, including 374,000 teenage pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The clinics prevented 570,000 abortions and saved taxpayers $7.6 billion. And Planned Parenthood is far and away the biggest provider in this space. Of the 6.7 million women who rely on Title X programs to pay for contraceptives, 2.4 million of them — 36 percent — do so at Planned Parenthood’s 817 clinics across the country.
By defunding these essential clinics, Republicans would make it harder for women to access affordable, effective contraception and family planning services, which research clearly shows is linked with higher rates of unintended pregnancy. The American taxpayer picks up 68 percent of the costs of all unintended pregnancies in this country, mostly through Medicaid; this equals out to be about $12 billion annually. And while contraceptives are relatively cheap, it costs more to give birth in the United States than anywhere else on Earth (in 2012, it averaged $9,775 for a vaginal delivery and $15,041 for a C-Section). That explains why, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, the government saves seven dollars for every dollar it spends on family planning.
Of course, Republicans have never been good at basic math, especially when it comes to issues related to reproductive and sexual health. After all, they’ve spent decades pushing abstinence-only education programs, despite clear evidence that these programs are not only ineffective, but actually directly contribute to the $9.1 billion taxpayers spend on teen pregnancies each year.