Dear Republicans: Contraception Is an Economic Issue

There is no more fundamental economic issue for women than determining if and when they will have children.

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Republicans on the Sunday talk show circuit spent a lot of time insisting that contraception isn't a real issue for women voters, that it's unimportant and will take a back seat to the economy. Colorado Republican Chair Ryan Call said much the same thing on a local Colorado political show Friday night when he insisted access to contraception was a "small issue."

Horsepucky. There is no more fundamental economic issue for women than determining if and when they will have children. Fertility is destiny. The Pill was the catalyst for the sexual revolution and the full entry of women into the American workforce because, for the first time in history, women could themselves control their own reproduction. Approximately 99 percent of reproductive age American women have used birth control—and something used by almost every woman in America isn't a small issue, it's huge.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

A March 6, 2012 blog post in the New York Times, "The Economic Impact of the Pill", summed it up:

Those changes have had enormous impacts on the economy, studies show: increasing the number of women in the labor force, raising the number of hours that women work and giving women access to traditionally male and highly lucrative professions in fields like law and medicine.

A study by Martha J. Bailey, Brad Hershbein and Amalia R. Miller helps assign a dollar value to those tectonic shifts. For instance, they show that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50.

Such trends have helped narrow the earnings gap between men and women. Indeed, the paper suggests that the pill accounted for 30 percent—30 percent!—of the convergence of men's and women's earnings from 1990 to 2000.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Catholic and Other Religious Institutions Have to Cover Birth Control?]

Republicans have also argued that that when it comes to reproductive healthcare, affordability and access are two separate issues. Right, and I suppose Dick Cheney paid for his six-figure heart transplant by washing dishes in the hospital commissary. Furthermore, pregnancy prevention programs, including subsidized contraception, save taxpayers money—anywhere from $2 to $6 for every $1 spent, according to a study by a Brookings Institution scholar.

Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, a repeat winner for the Mad Men Chauvinist of the Week Award, undermined his own spin on Meet the Press when he falsely stated that women don't earn less than men do. Some single women without children are able to close the income gap in some metropolitan areas for precisely that reason—they don't have kids, and can replicate men's hours at the office. Women with children often fall behind economically because they're working a double-shift, at home and at work, and our child care system in this country is wildly inadequate.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

Contraception isn't just a big issue to women voters, it's obviously a big issue to Republicans, despite their protest to the contrary now that it's costing them with women voters. It's big enough that they threatened to shut down the entire U.S. government over it last spring. It's big enough that Republican governors like Mitch Daniels have made defunding Planned Parenthood a top priority, as has their presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney even wants to eliminate federal funding for Title X, which provides family planning funding for five million low-income Americans.

Which begs the question: If contraception is key to women's economics, why are Republicans trying to keep women from getting it?

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.
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