As more states try to strip Planned Parenthood of pregnancy-prevention funds, new studies suggest taxpayers will pay more

(Image: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada)

Though Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and his supporters were unsuccessful in stripping Planned Parenthood Federation of America of federal funds that go to pregnancy- and disease-prevention services, state legislatures have had more luck in trying to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates. States like Indiana and Kansas recently passed such legislation, and there are measures pending in states such as Connecticut, Texas, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

But a new report released Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute suggests that these measures will likely increase how much taxpayers spend on unintended pregnancies, which are largely experienced by the uninsured and thus funded on the taxpayer’s dime.

Guttmacher, a social-science research organization widely cited by stakeholders on both sides of the abortion debate, has highlighted studies showing that unintended pregnancies –- the cause of most abortions in this country -– cost American taxpayers roughly $11.1 billion each year.

According to data revealed in these studies, two-thirds of births, or 1 million, each year are publicly funded either through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Two studies –- on the public costs of births resulting from unintended pregnancies (PDF) and on unintended pregnancy and taxpayer spending (PDF) –- relied on different methodological approaches but ultimately arrived at similar figures and the same conclusion: that “huge” public savings could be seen from reducing unintended pregnancy in this country.

The public-costs study (PDF), authored by the Guttmacher’s Adam Sonfield and colleagues, used state-level data from 2006 (largely culled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pregnancy Assessment Monitoring System and other state surveys), to find that 64 percent of births resulting from unintended pregnancies were funded by Medicaid, compared with 48 percent of all births and 35 percent of births resulting from intended pregnancies.

Additional findings:

  • Rates of unintended pregnancy are “far higher” among low-income women (those with an income at 100–199 percent of the federal poverty level) and those living in poverty.
  • About 44 percent of women aged 15 to 44 who have had an unintended pregnancy have had two or more unintended pregnancies.
  • About 36 percent of women who have had an unintended pregnancy and given birth have had two or more such births.

“In the absence of the services provided at publicly funded family planning centers, the costs of unintended pregnancy would be 60% higher than they are today,” Sonfield writes in an accompanying statement.

The taxpayer study (PDF), authored by the Brookings Institution’s Emily Monea and Adam Thomas, involved counting 2001 national estimates of publicly-funded births, abortions, miscarriages and infant medical care and then multiplying those figures by the average cost per outcome. The analysts came up with a range between $9.6 billion and $12.6 billion per year in taxpayer money covering unintended pregnancies, with an average of $11.3 billion. They estimated public savings that would occur if these unintended pregnancies were prevented would be between $4.7 billion and $6.2 billion.

Guttmacher notes that both estimates are limited to public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care and are thus considered to be conservative estimates, as they do not account for additional public and private costs associated with unintended pregnancies. The researchers note, for instance, that women who get pregnant unintentionally tend to have lower levels of labor-force participation, and their children are more likely than others to live in poverty, claim public assistance and engage in delinquent and criminal behavior later in life.

“Even taking our results at face value,” the Brookings Institute analysts write, “one can conclude that the prevention of unintended pregnancy would produce substantial public savings. For example, our mean estimate of annual savings ($5.6 billion) is more than three-quarters the level of federal funding for either the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children ($7.25 billion) or the Head Start and Early Head Start programs ($7.23 billion).”

A third study (PDF) with an accompanying map, reports first-ever state estimates of unintended pregnancy, as well as a benchmark for evaluating how state policies impact pregnancy rates. It found that unintended pregnancy rates were highest in Mississippi and generally in the South and Southwest.

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