During the debate over the economic stimulus bill earlier this year, congressional Republicans and the American people rebuffed congressional Democrats for adding a $350 million provision for contraceptives. The provision was eventually struck from the bill, but it resurfaced in both the House and the Senate as the Prevention First Act, where the Democrats doubled up, proposing $700 million for Title X, a family-planning program that relies heavily on contraceptives.
That bill went nowhere, but, at the end of July, this same increase in Title X funding reappeared in the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act co-sponsored by Democrats Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, among others. Many news outlets have hailed this bill as “common ground” in the abortion debate, but there are a few reasons to doubt that this increase in Title X funding represents anything other than a bailout for abortionists.
One might not make the immediate connection with funding ostensibly intended to prevent abortion with bailing out abortionists, but I can explain.
To begin, consider that, with $700 million one could buy roughly 7.8 billion condoms at the rate that Planned Parenthood gets them (9 cents apiece, according to balance sheets used in recent California litigation). Supposing one could fill 100 trucks with this many condoms, statistics tell us that two truckloads of condoms (more than 150 million) won’t work, even if people use them perfectly.
But that is not even half the story. The other 98 truckloads of condoms will go on to be used by exactly zero perfect people. Instead, typical people will use them and experience typical failure rates. We know these failure rates very well — you can find them at Planned Parenthood’s website.
We know from these numbers that, of 100 typical girls, 15 will get pregnant in their first year using condoms. “That’s okay,” you say, “that’s just 15 more babies for all of us to love.”
Sadly, that is not the case, and this is where I start wondering whether that money belongs back in the stimulus package. We know that 47% of all unplanned pregnancies end in abortion, so seven of these girls will have an abortion, which will cost them an average of $413 each.
Now, $700 million will lead to a lot more than seven abortions. Based on average failure rates, you can analyze the Title X program to find out, dollar for dollar, how much revenue the new, larger program will generate for abortionists.
It turns out that, under the 2007 Title X model, every dollar we spend on Title X to prevent abortions will ironically result in roughly 20 cents for an abortionist. So, under the Prevention First Act, abortionists as a class of people can expect to make $140 million, which is equal to $82,353 per abortionist per year (up from the current rate of $57.3 million, or $33,685 per abortionist per year). This is a situation just begging to be abused, since many of these establishments provide Title X contraceptives and abortions, can profit off of the abortions, and have no legal or moral incentive not to drive up abortion rates among their clients.
Contraceptive proponents would argue that, so long as women use contraception, contraception is going to fail — and, yes, some women will get abortions as a result of that failure, but we can’t just stop giving out contraceptives. They will also make the argument that stopping this funding would lead to an even larger increase in abortions.
This claim is highly dubious — and not supported by any reliable evidence. But that is another essay. I don’t think we have to end Title X (although I would like to) to make real change. Nearly all Americans would agree that we deserve the peace of mind of knowing that our hard-earned tax dollars are not being manipulated to fatten the pockets of abortionists. If taxpayers must be made to buy contraceptives for women, those contraceptives should be the least likely to result in abortion when they fail. To achieve this, I suggest three things.
• When it is a government grantee administering a program that relies on contraceptives as family planning, these entities must clearly emphasize the failure rates of those contraceptives. Women, if they are going to use them, must do so with the understanding that, one, they often fail; two, sometimes their chosen method will fail, even if they use them perfectly; and three, there is nothing they can do to completely prevent becoming one of those women who experience contraceptive failure if they choose to become sexually active using contraceptives. Counselors should encourage women to imagine the day they become pregnant and to consider how they will handle it. Counselors should be made to strongly encourage women to stay away from abortion and to educate about adoption, since that is what a majority of taxpayers would prefer. This simply is not the focus of contemporary family-planning efforts, which treat contraceptive use as the end of the discussion.
• I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does. You will put the baby up for adoption if you don’t want him or her. We can do this by having the woman sign a pledge. If they go on to have an abortion, they become ineligible for more taxpayer-bought contraception. They would have to buy it themselves or turn to private sources of funding for the contraception. Or, they could stop having sex until they are ready to have a child. Otherwise, the American taxpayer is made to seem neutral on the question of abortion, and the vast majority of them are not in the case of contraceptive failure. Certainly, this effort would not change the minds of some women, but it is worth the effort if it changes only one mind.
• The excesses of those on Wall Street who received bonuses while they were on the public dole, and despite failing at what they were paid to do, have scandalized many Americans. We believe in earning our money.
This principle has a broader application. Businesses like Planned Parenthood receive taxpayer money to reduce unplanned pregnancies, and often they provide abortions at the same time. When their efforts to prevent unplanned pregnancies result in abortion, they have failed to do what we are paying them to do. They should not receive a bonus in the form of abortion customers when they fail at their taxpayer-funded mission. If it makes political sense to limit the executive pay and bonuses of Wall Street types that take our tax dollars, it makes much more political sense to limit the amount of money firms make from the abortions we are paying them to prevent. Otherwise, we are paying them to fail.
We should demand that none of our tax dollars go to entities that provide any form of abortion. This would ensure that these stewards of Americans’ money are on the side of the American people, who overwhelmingly want fewer abortions, rather than on the side of their own financial gain.
I have been encouraged by President Obama’s repeated commitment to reduce the number of abortions. At a time when we as a nation are rethinking how we do a number of things, this situation demands something more than the same approach to Title X, which for 39 years has failed to acceptably reduce the number of abortions, all the while lining the pockets of abortionists with guaranteed profits.
This model, as Mr. Obama likes to say, is broken. Time for a new one.
Edward Scott Lloyd is a lawyer in the
Washington area and a former attorney
for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.