Health Care

Family Planning Loses Out in the Budget Brawl


As the city-run Women's Health and Family Planning Center in Bayonne, N.J., closed its doors last month for the final time, workers hauled away desks, cabinets, and dozens of white boxes labeled "pregnancy tests" and "condoms." The clinic was one of six forced to close after Republican Governor Chris Christie eliminated all of the $7.45 million in state funding for family planning last year as part of an effort to narrow a budget shortfall approaching $11 billion.

While the governor opposes abortion, the decision to cut funding for clinics such as the one in Bayonne—which never performed the procedure—was motivated by economics, not politics, said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak in an e-mail. "This is about the budget, making the hard choices and responsible spending."

Republicans, energized by the November elections that gave them control of 29 governorships, this year have introduced a record 570 bills in state legislatures that seek to restrict access to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York research organization that compiles reproductive health data. They are also cutting services that provide gynecological care, sex education, and contraception to primarily to poor women.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at Guttmacher, thinks politicians are being shortsighted. "If you're trying to make a budgetary argument, you lose out, because family planning saves money," she says. For every dollar spent on family planning, states save an average of $3.74 on maternity and infant care, according to a 2008 study by her organization. Family planning centers are the main source of health care for 60 percent of the women who use them, according to Guttmacher. Women who lose access to these clinics may be forced to seek care through hospital emergency rooms, boosting costs for states.

A proposal to strip all funding from Planned Parenthood, which received $363 million in government grants or contracts in 2009, almost shut down the U.S. government during budget negotiations in April. Although the measure was ultimately defeated in the Senate, attacks have continued on the state level.

On May 10, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed a bill eliminating all state funding to organizations that provide family planning and abortions, which last year amounted to $1.4 million. The law also places some of the heaviest restrictions on access to abortion of any state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposed two-year budget would cut about $3.8 million for family planning. In Minnesota, the Republican-controlled Senate is trying to do away with all funding for family planning as part of an effort to close a $5 billion budget shortfall. "Republicans for the most part are against abortion, so right away we said, 'Let's look at this,'" says Brad Biers, an administrator at the Minnesota Senate's Health and Human Services Committee.

Cutting funds for family planning won't prevent abortions, says Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit group in Washington. Nearly half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "If you reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, you reduce the number of abortions," says Albert. "It's a very simple calculation."

In Texas, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives on Apr. 3 passed a budget that cut more than $61 million for family planning. The bill is in a conference committee and must be signed by Governor Rick Perry, also a Republican. Janet Realini, a doctor and president of Healthy Futures of Texas, a San Antonio organization that works to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancies, says the reduction in funding would result in more than 20,000 additional Medicaid-paid births.

State representative Jodie Laubenberg, a Republican from Rockwall, Tex., believes limiting access to birth control will "not necessarily" increase unintended pregnancies. Says Laubenberg: "Sometimes when you have to pay for something, whether it's $5 or, on a sliding scale, even $30, you tend to take a little bit more responsibility for things, if you've got some skin in the game, excuse the pun."

The bottom line: Republican-controlled states are restricting funds for family planning services, a move that may not save money in the long run.

Deprez is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New York. Follow her on Twitter @esmedeprez.

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