On Friday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s largest providers of women’s health care and family planning services.
Planned Parenthood is under attack and it’s up to all of us to fight back. Any society that respects women must respect their right to control their own bodies. There is a strong moral case to be made for this — but this article isn’t about that. This is about the economics of family planning — which are one more reason it’s important for all of us to stand up and defend Planned Parenthood.
Reproductive rights, family planning, and women’s health are all interrelated. All girls and women need full information and access to family planning services, including abortion — regardless of their income level–so they can determine if or when they have children.
Public investments in family planning — enabling women to plan, delay, or avoid pregnancy — make economic sense, because reproductive rights are also productive rights. When women have control over their lives, they can contribute even more to the economy, better break the glass ceiling, equalize the pay gap, and much more.
Take the state of Colorado’s highly successful family planning program. Over the past six years, Colorado’s health departments have offered teenagers and low-income women free long-acting birth control that prevents pregnancy over several years. Pregnancy and abortion rates plunged–by about 40 percent among teenagers across the state from 2009 to 2013.
In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state occurred before they turned 21. But by 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that gives young women time to finish their education and obtain better jobs.
In fact, being able to access birth control before age 21 has been found to be the most influential factor in enabling women to stay in college, and to pursue advanced degrees. Today, the number of women who complete four or more years of college is six times what it was before birth control became legal. Researchers estimate that birth control accounted for more than 30 percent of the increase in the proportion of women in skilled careers from 1970 to 1990, and it’s also been touted as a major driver of the number of women pursuing medicine, dentistry, and law careers.
Highlighting the fact that birth control and family planning are top economic drivers for women, Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014 listed contraception as one of the most transformational developments in the business sector in the last 85 years. Fully one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of access to oral contraceptives. And while the wage gap between men and women is still significant (particularly for women of color) and must be addressed, access to family planning and birth control has helped narrow the gap.
The economic benefits of family planning and birth control don’t end there. Nationally, evidence shows that public investments in family planning result in net public savings of about $13.6 billion a year — over $7 for every public dollar spent. This sum doesn’t include the billions of additional dollars saved by enabling women who may not be financially able to raise a child and do not want to have a child or additional children to stay out of poverty.
Yet, over the last five years Republicans have cut 10 percent of the Title X federal budget for family planning, which also pays for critical services such as cancer screenings and HIV tests (but which does not go towards abortion costs). And recently, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee has gone as far as trying to eliminate the program.
Obviously, these crass economic numbers don’t nearly express the full complexity of the national debate around abortion and family planning. But they do very clearly make the case that we all benefit when society respects the rights of women to control their bodies and plan their own futures and families.