Keep women's options open

By Jen Vail

On January 23, 2009, President Obama became a savior, literally, for many women worldwide. He lifted the Global Gag Rule, which “denies foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance the right to use their own, non-U.S. funds to either engage in any abortion-related public policy debates or perform legal abortions.”While this enraged conservatives, he quickly regained their support when he dropped the Medicaid Family Planning State Option from the new stimulus package. As NOW (National Organization for Women) puts it, “the Economic Recovery package may be ‘shovel ready,’ but poor women got the axe.”

The Medicaid Family Planning State Option allows states to increase their Medicaid family planning services to more women in need and bypass the arduous waiver process (although Medicaid family planning expansions have proven successful, the waiver application and renewal process waste state resources and delay implementation).

The exclusion resulted from House Republicans arguing that “family planning for poor women is ‘too expensive,'” and that the Option would not lead to job creation. It is widely known that one of Obama’s primary goals is to create innumerable new jobs. And while providing family planning to low-income women would not help meet that objective, it would undeniably produce fewer unwanted pregnancies and provide women, regardless of economic status, with the basic and necessary information to make educated decisions about how to best care for their bodies. Moreover, it is a fitting program given this nation’s economic climate, since the Option provides family planning services to women who have lost their jobs and their health insurance.

If the government dictates how women control, and are informed about, their bodies, there will be fewer people to fill all the jobs Obama hopes to create. At best, women will have more unwanted pregnancies and be unable to work. At worst, they will experience potentially fatal complications due to botched abortions, HIV/AIDS, etc.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2014 the Medicaid Family Planning State Option would provide accessible coverage to 2.3 million low-income women. A study by the Guttmacher Institute finds that the Option would contribute to 500,000 fewer unplanned pregnancies. House Minority Leader John Boehner claimed that the Option would cost hundreds of millions of dollars-in fact, the provision would save money. The CBO estimates that this provision would save the federal government $700 million over ten years.

Currently 27 states implement this provision, and the results speak for themselves: for example, “$75 million in Arkansas over five years and $214 million in Alabama over three years.”

According to Planned Parenthood, “Every public dollar spent to provide family planning services generates $4.02 in Medicaid savings in the following year alone.” That is money which could be used towards deflecting the budget shortfalls of many states.

The federal government could use the $600 million allotted as extra funds for the Health, Labor and Education category to include the Medicaid Family Planning State Option. A basic understanding of the State Option makes it a natural fit into this category of the stimulus package; the Option not only improves women’s health, but educates them about their options for family planning. The Option could also be included as part of the $20.2 billion allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services for similar reasons. If the option will end up saving the national government money, the funds spent to achieve that end should be deemed an investment, not a cost.