The decades-long decline in the U.S. abortion rate slowed yet again in 2003, adding to mounting evidence that the nation is failing to help women prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion, according to a new analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute researchers reported in May that while the overall rate of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. remained unchanged between 1994 and 2001, rates increased by 29% among poor women, even as they declined by 20% for more affluent women.
“These trends are alarming, and should be a wake-up call to policymakers at the federal and state levels to do more to help women, especially those at greatest risk, avoid unwanted pregnancies,” argues Dr. Camp. “There is an urgent need to strengthen evidence-based policies that have been proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. These include improving public funding for contraceptive services for poor women at the state and federal levels by expanding Medicaid eligibility and Title X funding, and ensuring that the Food and Drug Administration acts on its own experts’ advice to grant over-the-counter status for the emergency contraceptive Plan B without further delay.”
The above is from the most recent news release from one of my most favorite sources of information on current reproductive health trends - the New York City based Guttmacher Institute (www.guttmacher.org). Dr. Sharon Camp, President of the Guttmacher Institute, is obviously attempting to remain calm in the face of what I see as an all-out assault on women, particularly lower-income women. We have known for a long while now that abortion rates have been declining among upper income women. At the same time, abortions have been increasing among lower income women. This should not be a surprise. Our federal government has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into unscientific, ultimately failed abstinence-ONLY programs and "crisis pregnancy centers" (centers which are essentially pro-life advocacy organizations tied more often than not to ultra-religious Christian denominations with a particularly narrow forced birth agenda) in the name of preventing unplanned pregnancies.
However, as both qualitative and quantitative studies and anecdotal evidence have shown over and over again, abstinence-only education does not succeed in preventing either unplanned pregnancy OR in lowering rates of sexually transmitted infections among young people. In Bush's home state of Texas, the abstinence-only programs implemented in the public schools proved completely ineffective at educating young people, delaying sexual activity and ultimately reducing teen pregnancy. In addition, rates of sexually transmitted infections among the young people in these particular towns soared. In fact, students in almost all high school grades were more sexually active after undergoing abstinence only education!
To be fair, trends show that students in that particular age group would have increased their sexual activity anyway at that time in their lives. Therefore, at best, this abstinence-only education did absolutely nothing to change students' sexual behavior. At worst, it put them in grave danger of contracting infections that potentially pose a real threat to their health and lives. How in good conscience, can these zealots who are intent on politicizing their religious and personal value systems, encourage policies and programs that are dangerous or just plain don't work?
What's truly appalling is that the federal government, OUR government, spent $131 million last year (2005) on abstinence-only education - "education" that has not given our youth the tools they need to lead healthy lives. The administration has certainly not let up in 2006, continuing to increase funding for these morality and religious-based programs (which, come on, should not be called education but agenda) while at the same time decreasing funding for - or all out ignoring - medically and scientifically proven health education programs that would have a positive effect on our young people's sexual health. Once again, studies show that an age-appropriate, medically accurate sexual health curriculum that includes information about both contraception as well as abstinence is the most effective method of reaching and teaching teens thereby reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates.
In addition, access to over the counter emergency contraception - a birth control method which has the potential to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by the millions - has been caught in what we all know is a political net, held up for years by the FDA and an administration intent on strangling us with their moral nooses. Emergency contraception could be one of the single most important tools for women of any age in the effort to prevent pregnancy- but especially for lower-income women for whom lack of access to consistent birth control coverage can be a problem.
45.8 million Americans do not have health care coverage. Women in this country without health insurance are less likely to use birth control if they have to pay for it out of pocket - simply because then they cannot afford it. At $25/dose and the possibility for over-the-counter access, emergency contraception can be a tremendous reproductive health tool for women who do not want to get pregnant.
One only needs to look at this country's increasing numbers of women in need of publicly funded contraception to see how this affects the growing abortion disparity. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about half of the 66.3 million women in this country of reproductive age (33.4 million women) were in need of contraceptive services. Of those women–17.4 million–were in need of publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies, an increase of one million women since 2000.
To be clear, these women are low-income and they are not getting the birth control services they need to take control of their reproductive and sexual health care. According to Guttmacher "the number of women who have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level or are younger than 20–increased by 6%. Meanwhile, the number of women of reproductive age and the total number of women in need of contraceptive services each rose by only 1%, indicating that the broader economic trends of the period, rather than population growth, drove the change."
This is not rocket science. This is a public health concern for all of us. Women of a particular income level are not receiving the education and the tools they need to lead happy, productive and healthy lives. Once again, this administration has managed to widen the gap between rich and poor. The leaders in Congress who are not taking a stand to ensure that our state and federal governments take care of all citizens - not just those in the upper-income levels - are acting foolishly and cold-heartedly.
The abstinence-only pushers. the legislators who refuse to enact laws to increase government spending for tried and true health care and educational programs that take care of our citizens, and the problematic influence of certain moral perspectives on what should be a scientific decision by our Food and Drug Administration, have a strong and terrible impact on women's lives in this country but more than that they have an impact on the lives of all of us who are of certain socio-economic strata. Women must understand that this is first and foremost an issue of economics and only secondarily a gender issue. The war has been waged by this administration time and again - and it is against the poor and middle income for sure.