A recent report found that the United States has the highest rate of first-day infant death in the industrialized world. It’s unclear why the U.S. continues to struggle so much with infant mortality, but it’s likely partly tied to some women’s substandard prenatal care. Women’s health experts agree that there’s one way to ensure that women’s pregnancies are as healthy as possible: ensuring access to affordable family planning programs.
At first glance, the link between birth control and healthy babies may not seem obvious. But, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute, there’s actually a big correlation between giving women the resources to determine the timing of their pregnancies and the health outcomes of those pregnancies. When women who have multiple children are able to space out their pregnancies, their children are less likely to be born prematurely or have low birth weights. There’s also mounting evidence that women who unintentionally become pregnant tend to receive worse prenatal care than the women who who are able to plan their pregnancies — partly because when pregnancies are unintended, women may go weeks or even months without realizing they’re pregnant. And when couples don’t use contraception, they have about an 85 percent chance of an unintended pregnancy within a year.
Guttmacher estimates that public family planning programs — specifically, the publicly funded services that are supported by Medicaid and Title X funding — help avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies every year. On the other hand, if low-income women in the United States didn’t have access to the preventative care at those clinics, there would be an annual additional 860,000 unplanned births and 810,000 abortions in this country.
Unfortunately, however, those essential public family planning clinics are under attack across the country. Since Planned Parenthood affiliates often run women’s health clinics with Medicaid dollars, anti-choice Republicans have seized on the opportunity to target the organization by defunding its publicly-funded programs. Even though GOP lawmakers have framed their crusade against Planned Parenthood in terms of their opposition to abortion, public funds cannot actually finance abortion services. When family planning clinics get defunded, it doesn’t do anything to stop abortion — but it does deal a blow to the quest to improve infant death rates by undercutting women’s critical preventative care.
Over the past two years, Republicans have attacked family planning in ten different states. The consequences of those battles have perhaps been most evident in Texas, where state officials slashed Title X funds and excluded Planned Parenthood from the local Medicaid program. After realizing that unintended births are likely to rise dramatically, Texas Republicans have finally pledged to start working to restore the women’s health funding that they slashed in 2011.