US Stamp Honoring Family Planning?

A postage stamp encouraging family planning? From a conservative US Administration? No, you haven't entered the Twilight Zone, it really happened -- and speaks volumes about where we are today.

As I was going through boxes of old keepsakes, imagine my surprise at discovering a U.S. postage stamp commemorating family planning affixed to a letter I received from a college classmate in 1972. While the contents of this and the many other letters I exchanged with friends during this tumultuous time were geared more to opposing President Nixon and his policies, apparently family planning was not only supported by the Nixon administration, but enjoyed sufficient public acceptance to warrant a commemorative postage stamp (albeit one that looked like it came straight out of the Dick and Jane books or the Leave It to Beaver TV show).

To satisfy my curiosity, I went to the USPS website where I learned that only "…themes of widespread national appeal and significance will be considered for commemoration" because "stamps portray the American experience to a world audience . . . ." In announcing the appearance of the stamp at a gathering of Planned Parenthood Federation supporters, JT Ellington, the then-director of the Postal Service's office of communication, was quoted in the March 18, 1972 New York Times saying "We hope. . .this stamp will serve as a reminder to all members of our society. . .that a spiraling world population and the environmental and social ills that inevitably follow – is everyone's concern."

What the world sees now is a presidential administration obsessed with satisfying the radical fringe's definition of morality and family values even if it means ignoring sound public health. The President's FY 2008 budget for the sixth year in a row contained no new funding for family planning services for low-income Americans, despite growing needs.

Internationally, the Bush Administration has refused to fund UNFPA, the United Nations Populations Fund, for five straight years. UNFPA currently receives the financial support of 180 countries, making ours the only country to withhold financial support for non-budgetary reasons. 200 million women who want to plan or space their births without access to family planning services causes unwanted pregnancies and abortions to rise. The United States is not immune from this problem – each year 3 million pregnancies, or one half of all pregnancies, in the U.S. are unintended and nearly half of them end in abortion.

Too many policy makers, however, would rather continue on in the naïve belief that "just say no" and "abstinence until marriage" are preferable alternatives to contraceptive use despite research demonstrating that contraception use improves maternal and infant health and reduces unintended pregnancies, STDs including HIV, and abortions. In fact, it appears that this administration is caving in to the small but vocal contra-contraception movement whose position is that contraception equals abortion and that access to these family planning methods must be blocked through pharmacists and political policies.

It is twisted that these policy makers hold onto these anti-contraception positions – especially when 8 in 10 self-identified "pro-lifers" say that women should have access to contraception and 86% of voters and 85% of Catholic voters want government-supported access to contraception for women without health insurance.

These views probably aren't that different than where Americans were in 1972 – when family planning was proclaimed as an American value, commemorated in the 8 cent stamp.