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Et tu, Barack?

Cristina Page

Ideology-plagued Republicans, and their media enablers, couldn't seem to figure out why unemployed Americans without health insurance would possibly want, or need, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Yesterday, the Republicans, accompanied by a sadly uninformed media,
led a frenzied bitch fest over the inclusion of a family planning
provision in the Democrats’ stimulus package. That provision, a mere
$200 million of a $825 billion stimulus package, which represents 1/4
of 1%, or 0.225%, of the overall budget, offered a safety net for
Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be
ineligible for that assistance.

But the ideology-plagued Republicans, and their media enablers,
couldn’t seem to figure out why unemployed Americans without health
insurance would possibly want, or need, to prevent an unwanted
pregnancy. They seemed mystified that a surprise addition of a new
family member could batter a no-income family financially, or when
multiplied exponentially, a state, and work against everything a
stimulus package is supposed to stimulate. Rep. John Boehner wondered aloud, "How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?"

News story after news story reports that many Americans suffering through the collapse of the economy (like the 71,000
who were laid off yesterday) are, among other lifestyle changes,
postponing having a child. Planning when to have a child based on
whether you can support one seems like a pretty common sense approach.
It could even be described as "responsible" — which, you will recall, was
the overarching theme of our new president’s inaugural speech. One
small part of the stimulus package the Democrats presented offered this
family planning safety net for Americans who need contraceptive
coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance. The
staged Republican freak-out revealed the degree to which they are
out-of-touch with Americans’ lives, as if we needed another reminder.
The more disturbing part is how quickly President Obama surrendered to
this pressure. Without a single attempt to explain the importance of
family planning in the lives of struggling Americans, the White House
distanced itself from the provision. After a day of bizarre media
misinterpretation of the proposal, Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, told Cybercast News Service that it was not Obama’s idea and that "the principles of what he thought should be in the package–that wasn’t part of that."

Yet just last Friday Obama, in a statement
accompanying his rescinding of the Global Gag Rule recognized the
importance family planning plays in "promoting global economic
development" and promised "In the coming weeks, my Administration will
initiate a fresh conversation on family planning." Unless he meant
fresh as is impudent and presumptuous, I’m confused. If family planning
can promote economic development globally, why won’t it here?

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Experts say, it would. According Cory Richards, VP of Public Policy at the Guttmacher Institute, wrote on Rewire,

Assisting states with their Medicaid programs is a proven and
effective strategy for stimulating the economy in times of economic
distress. That’s why the stimulus package contains $87 billion to help
states with Medicaid costs. One can only assume that Rep. Boehner’s
singling out for criticism the Medicaid spending for contraception is
politically motivated.

Not only is it politically motivated, it is highly ironic coming
from a self-described fiscal conservative who repeatedly says the
stimulus package should include spending that doesn’t increase the
deficit. When the Congressional Budget Office assessed a virtually
identical provision in 2007, it found that it would save the federal
government $200 million over five years by helping women voluntarily
avoid pregnancies that otherwise would result in Medicaid-funded
births. An expansion such as the one permitted by the stimulus package
could save Rep. Boehner’s state of Ohio $1.4 million in 2009 – money
that could make a real difference in a hard-hit state that is
struggling with significant budget shortfalls.

The Republican opposition to the family planning provision is
without merit but does serve as a perfect tool to misrepresent a
thoughtful stimulus package; one that takes in to consideration real
people’s lives. And this misrepresentation found a bullhorn in a media
that
likes goes light on the facts, especially with regard to reproductive
health. (The Republicans and the media, both of which like to think of
themselves as loyal opposition, may make a powerful, reckless, and
frightening pair.) On his show, Chris Matthews compared the family
planning provision in the stimulus package to China’s coercive abortion
policy stating:

I don’t know. It sounds a little like China. I think everybody
should have family planning and everybody believes in birth control as
a right. I’m for — abortion is a right and all that. It’s all right.
But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the
number of births?

On Fox News, Neil Cavuto bizarrely argued
that unwanted pregnancies are good for the economy because, "You want
more people eventually in this country paying into social security
because you have more people retiring."

James Pethokoukis,
blogger for US News and World Report, abandoned all journalistic
integrity when covering the stimulus package and got all misty-eyed
about unwanted pregnancy, stating, "This is wrong on so many levels, one
of which is looking at children born to the ‘wrong people’ as economic
burdens rather gifts, the music makers, the dreamers of dreams. She
sees them as a cost instead of blessed benefits. Wow." Wow is right,
this guy writes for US News and World Report? Guess those layoffs in
the publishing industry weren’t broad enough.

After suffering through eight years of attacks on contraception, we
come out the other end with surging teen birth rates in 26 states and
increases in STDs. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned
Pregnancy reports
that the cost to taxpayers (federal, state, and local) of teen
childbearing in the United States in 2004 alone cost tax payers $9.1
billion. We know
that for every dollar invested in family planning the federal
government saves $4. The Republican distortion campaign will, sadly,
prevent Americans from understanding what they already know —
especially in hard economic times family planning makes sense.