When signing the legislation that created the Title X family planning program in 1970, President Richard Nixon said, “It is noteworthy that this landmark legislation on family planning and population has had strong bipartisan support.”
But somewhere along the line, many conservatives lost that loving feeling. In fact, this week House Republicans tried to strip birth control coverage from the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
You've heard their arguments. Contraception has caused the downfall of the culture by allowing people to have sex sans a surprise nine months later. It violates the religious rights of Mod Podge purveyors. It's led women to be promiscuous and men to be gay. (I still can't wrap my head around that one.) It's even contributing to the terrible dearth of babies some writers see lurking just around the corner. (Given that the world's population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, I have trouble wrapping my head around that, too.)
There's no doubt that contraception has changed the way we date, mate and raise our families – changes that have given women new opportunities and traditionalists heartburn. But what if I told you that there are a number of really good conservative arguments for supporting and even increasing family planning funding – particularly internationally – even in a tight fiscal environment?
Here are four reasons why conservatives should rekindle a romance with birth control:
Birth Control Saves Money. Family planning is one of the most cost-effective investments the United States can make in developing countries. In fact, expanding access to contraception is a crucial step toward achieving all eight of the Millennium Development Goals, according to a report produced by a panel of 53 experts and international agencies. While conservatives might scoff at anything the United Nations undertakes, it's hard to argue with this fact: If we are able to meet these goals – including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger – there will be less need for foreign aid spending. Developed nations are simply more able to take care of themselves – the kind of self-reliance conservatives admire.
Birth Control Boosts Economies. In the early 1970s, two nations with very similar GDPs – Thailand and the Philippines – diverged. Thailand began a national program to provide its citizens with voluntary access to contraception, while the Philippines passed a law to finally do that late last year – a law currently on hold thanks to that nation's very conservative Supreme Court. By 2010, Thailand had 68.1 million citizens, while the Philippines had 93.6 million.
More impressive was the economic gain enjoyed by Thailand. In 2008, Thailand's GDP was $273 billion, while the Philippines' was $167 billion. Per capita, Thailand's GDP was $4,043, while Filipinos settled for $1,847. In 2010, only about one in 10 Thais lived in poverty, while more than one in four Filipinos did. This result isn't limited to these two countries. Nations with the highest birthrates tend to be the poorest, while the richest nations on Earth have birthrates near or below replacement. One thing's for sure: Nations in which most people live on less than $2 per day won't be doing much business with American companies.
Birth Control Stabilizes Nations. Very young populations – characteristic of nations with high birthrates – can be very unstable. Why? Imagine you're a young man in Nigeria, Pakistan or any other nation with a high birthrate. Such nations – nearly all poor – struggle to provide adequate education, health care and other services for the ever-expanding “youth bulge.” The competition for jobs among young people is fierce, and unemployment is epidemic. When you're hungry and desperate, turning to crime – or even terrorism – might feel like your only option. Studies have shown a relationship between large youth bulges and civil unrest and instability.
Birth Control Reduces Human Suffering. Finally, contraception saves lives and reduces human suffering, a result religious conservatives, especially, can embrace. By allowing women to time and space their pregnancies, family planning could prevent up to one in three maternal deaths in the developing world. Spacing pregnancies adequately also reduces infant mortality and improves the health of children. When young brides are able to wait to have babies until their bodies are fully developed, they're less likely to develop obstetric fistula. And access to family planning also prevents abortions. More than half of all abortions in the developing world are unsafe, which killed around 47,000 women in 2008. All of those deaths could have been prevented if the unwanted pregnancy that led to them never happened.
An estimated 222 million women around the world who want to delay or end childbearing don't have access to contraception. It's a number that's growing as today's young people – the largest generation in world history – reach their reproductive years and investments stall. In fact, we're spending 30 percent less in inflation-adjusted dollars on international family planning now than we did in 1995.
I know that I'll never persuade some conservatives that international family planning deserves their support. But when a single investment can save money, boost economies, stabilize nations and reduce human suffering, thoughtful people of all political persuasions should give it a second look.
40 years ago, birth control enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Helping our fellow man have a better life isn't a liberal issue or a conservative issue – it's a human issue. It's time to take the politics out of family planning.
- Read Brad Bannon: The Shutdown Over Obamacare Proves the Tea Party Doesn't Care
- Read Susan Milligan: Wendy Davis Running for Texas Governor Shows the GOP's Problem With Women
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now availableon iPad