An Arkansas state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would give single mothers on Medicaid an incentive to get surgical contraception so they can take “a little bit of a breather to think about their life decisions that are affecting us as taxpayers.”
The bill introduced by state Rep. Kim Hammer (R), HB 1868, would create a contraception “incentive” by having Medicaid cover the cost of a surgically implanted, long-acting form of contraception, such as an intrauterine device (IUD). The incentive, however, would only be available to “an unmarried individual who has one child,” rather than all women on the state Medicaid program.
The state’s low-income single mothers may appreciate the financial help in covering the cost of long-acting birth control. Despite the fact that IUDs are the most effective reversible contraception, usage rates lag behind the pill often because the up front costs can be so prohibitive, running as much as $1,000 or, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
But all women in Arkansas, whether single, married, mothers, or childless, may be interested in having the cost covered. Instead, Hammer’s focus on poor, single mothers is reminiscent of other attempts to limit poor women’s fertility. The government has an ugly history when it comes to this: the Nixon administration pushed to fund the sterilizations of mostly low-income women of color, many of which were done involuntarily. That practice is not ancient history. Between 2005 and 2013, California’s prison system administered more than 39 tubal ligations without the prisoners’ full consent.
And just as Hammer focuses on how poor women’s fertility “affects us as taxpayers,” these programs have been justified by the idea that they will save money on welfare. Dr. James Heinrich, who performed the majority of the sterilizations in California’s prisons, said of the practice’s cost, “Over a ten-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more.” Even last year, a former state senator and head of the Arizona Republican Party had to resign from the latter position over remarks that suggested poor women on Medicaid should be sterilized when discussing abuses of the welfare system.
Other government policies have sought to limit poor women’s families. Sixteen states cap welfare benefits after a recipient has a certain number of children, rather than the benefits increasing with each additional child as they do in other states, based on the idea that it will limit them from having more kids. There’s no evidence, however, that these caps work; instead, they push people further into poverty.
All of these policies also assume that poor people receiving government benefits have more children than everyone else. But people who receiving Medicaid, welfare, housing assistance, food stamps, or Social Security Income have the same size families, on average, as those who don’t receive benefits.
Hammer may be in favor of giving poor single mothers long-acting contraception, but it’s clear that he’s not in favor of supporting their choice to end any unwanted pregnancies. As Teddy Wilson reports at RH Reality Check, he voted for an abortion ban after 20 weeks, a ban on abortion of a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and a ban of abortion coverage through Affordable Care Act exchange health plans except through the purchase of a rider.