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Economic impact of defunding Planned Parenthood: the debate around women’s healthcare

August 20, 2017

The Member of Congress I am interning for this summer is a pro-life Democrat, a rare breed in today’s political landscape. Not surprisingly, he has been attracting a fair amount of criticism recently from pro-life conservatives who argue that his voting record is far from that of a pro-life politician. Two recent votes, one against the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy and one against defunding Planned Parenthood, are often highlighted as evidence of this, but the issue is not that black and white.

The Mexico City policy, which bars U.S. federal funding from international NGOs that provide abortion counseling/referrals or advocate decriminalizing the service, originally only applied to abortion itself as opposed to family planning more generally. Today the policy is referred to as the “global gag rule” since it prevents organizations from providing women with everything from family planning counsel to condoms and other forms of contraception.

In fact, a study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine and published by the World Health Organization shows that re-enacting the Mexico City policy actually led to a nearly 2x increase in unintended pregnancies and abortions across sub-Saharan Africa. [1] Thus, a vote against the Mexico City policy is not so much a pro-choice vote as it is a commonsense one. The issue of federal funding for the reproductive healthcare non-profit Planned Parenthood is similar in many ways. Once again, voting to defund Planned Parenthood has many adverse effects, making it difficult to classify the issue as a black and white question on abortion.

In 2011, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) claimed in a floor speech that over abortion is “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” The real statistic is less than 3%. When confronted with the facts, Kyl’s press office released a provocative statement claiming that the original statement made by Kyl on the Senate floor was “not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.” (Even a revised statement such as this, while technically true, is misleading since none of those taxpayer dollars actually go towards funding abortions or abortion related procedures.)

While there is some fair debate over how to land on a statistic that best captures how much of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion (revenue stream, percentage of resources, customers or total visits, etc.), the bottom-line stays the same no matter what- the majority of Planned Parenthood’s time, energy, and resources as a non-profit go towards providing women with other reproductive health care services. Planned Parenthood health centers provide birth control for nearly 2 million people, as well as over 4.2 million STD tests and treatments; over 320,000 breast exams; and nearly 295,000 Pap tests per year. Out of the 10.6 million services, 327,653 of them were abortion procedures.

Image: Graphics highlighting the importance of federal funding for women's health resources. Source: Guttmacher Institute.Image: Graphics highlighting the importance of federal funding for women’s health resources. Source: Guttmacher Institute.

In addition to the very serious health concerns associated with defunding an organization like Planned Parenthood, the economic impact also needs to be taken into consideration.

The CBO report on H.R. 3134, the “Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015,” estimated that defunding the organization for one fiscal year (as laid out in the bill) would decrease direct spending by $235 million between 2016-2025, while permanently prohibiting Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding would increase direct spending by $135 million between 2016-2025 due to increased direct spending on Medicaid. [2]

Because of incomplete data on the socioeconomic and residential statuses of current Planned Parenthood beneficiaries, the CBO reported that any number of people ranging from 5-25% of their estimated 2.6 million clientele base would face reduced access to care. Some would lose it entirely, at least for some period of time. The provision affecting Planned Parenthood in the more recent AHCA, passed by the House earlier this year, leads the CBO to similar predictions. [3]

Outside of displaced spending on women’s health care putting an unnecessary strain on the Medicaid system, which currently faces the possibility of sizable cuts under the proposed Senate GOP health care plan, there exists a large amount of evidence that investing in family planning services can have extremely positive long-term effects on the national economy, albeit in a less concrete way.

In 2015 The National Institute of Reproductive Health conducted polling in New York and Pennsylvania to analyze voter opinions on the connection between reproductive health care rights and equal opportunity/financial security. The results of the study show that a majority of voters in both states believe both a woman’s financial stability and her likelihood for equal opportunity are connected to her ability to control when or whether she has children. [4]

Image: Quantitative results from NIRH polling in 2015. Source: PerryUndem Research/Communication.Image: Quantitative results from NIRH polling in 2015. Source: PerryUndem Research/Communication.

Similarly, a Guttmacher Institute study found that 63 percent of women reported birth control allowed them to take better care of themselves or their families, and 56 percent said it allowed them to take care of themselves financially. Half reported that it helped them stay in school and complete their education and that it helped them get or keep a job and advance their careers. [5] These kinds of relationships can be traced back to the advent of the birth control pill.

Research aggregated by the National Women’s Law Center shows the initial availability of birth-control pills in the early seventies accounted for 30% of the growth in the proportion of women in skilled careers between 1970 and 1990, and contributed to an increase in the number of women in male-dominated fields. [6] Additionally, access to family planning resources has been shown to improve educational attainment and increase wages and lifetime earnings. It follows that children born as a result of planned pregnancies are less likely to be dependent on federal dollars for government services.

The necessity of family-planning services for matters of equal opportunity and economic productivity cannot be overlooked. According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development, greater gender equality can “enhance economic productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions and policies more representative.” [7] When women succeed, we all succeed. Organizations like Planned Parenthood help provide resources to allow women to succeed. For this reason, it is irresponsible politics to inextricably link the extremely controversial and politicized issue of abortion to access to family-planning services and reproductive health care more generally.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

References

  [1] Bendavid, Eran; Avila, Patrick; Miller, Grant. “United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa”. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. October 27, 2012.
  [2] Hall, Keith. “Re: Budgetary Effects of Legislation That Would Permanently Prohibit the Availability of Federal Funds to Planned Parenthood.” Congressional Budget Office. September 22, 2015.
  [3] “American Health Care Act: Budget Reconciliation Recommendations of the House Committees on Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce.” Congressional Budget Office. March 9, 2017.
  [4] “Analysis of Voters’ Opinions on Abortion in Women’s Lives: Exploring Links to Equal Opportunity and Financial Stability.” PerryUndem Research/Communication. October 15, 2014.
  [5] Frost, Jennifer; Lindberg Laura. “Reasons for using contraception: Perspectives of US women seeking care at specialized family planning clinics.” Guttmacher Institute. September 25, 2012.
  [6] “Fact Sheet: Reproductive Health Is Part of the Economic Health of Women and Their Families.” National Women’s Law Center. February 2015.
  [7] “World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development.” The Word Bank. 2012.

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