Mo’ Babies Mo’ Problems

After their embarrassing defeat on Tuesday night, many Republicans were left scratching their heads, contemplating their loss to the incumbent with a lackluster economic record.  The election proved that the Republican platform is wrought with policy-based inconsistencies, most notably their support of ‘small government’ and personal rights, while simultaneously supporting legislation that takes health-related decisions out of the hands of American women. Party standard-bearer Mitt Romney insists that Republican ideology is the only viable solution for America’s future.  Republicans garnered support by hammering Mr. Obama’s fiscal policies, breaking with the president by promising not to raise taxes and cut spending should they win the election. Yet to their frustration, controversies over contraception, abortion and health services have stolen headlines away from the economy-centric party mantra. While some on the left insist there is an ongoing ‘war on women’, the right insists that these topics serve as mere distractions from the ‘real issues’ like jobs and the economy. What the Republicans do not seem to realise is that the viability of the economy and women’s health rights are not mutually exclusive. Rather, this ‘distraction’ exposes the contradictions in their economic policy, and concurrently their vision for America.

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes, © 2009, some rights reserved.

A hallmark of Mr. Romney’s public addresses has been the importance of the ‘future of America,’ yet he is the most prominent member of a political party that has exhibited a regressive attitude towards issues of women’s heath and reproductive rights. The GOP has among its ranks members like Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who has stated that rape resulting in pregnancy is something that ‘God intended.’ Additionally, Rep. Todd Akin, a candidate for Senate in Missouri, recently asserted that ‘if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut [pregnancy] down’. These beliefs are not only abhorrently disrespectful to rape victims but seem to reflect an antiquated and scientifically disproven understanding of reproductive science.  Their views are out of touch with public opinion, and their public statements reveal positions that are based on dangerous misinformation. What is even more unbelievable is that Rep. Akin sits on the House Science and Technology Committee, a body that oversees non-defense federal scientific research and development. How can a member of Congress be trusted to make decisions on such obviously consequential issues when his scientific knowledge seems to have not progressed since the middle ages? The fiscal policies of Mr. Akin’s party are threatening to detract from American progress as well.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed Title X in to law, which provided funding for family planning programs. In the years following the passage of this historic legislation, Title X has become entangled in the contentious abortion debate, owing to the provision’s association with Planned Parenthood, a health organisation for which abortion services count for three percent of their services. In an attempt to appear severely conservative in order to appeal to the Republican primary electorate, Mr. Romney has pandered to pro-life groups, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade and to eliminate the family planning provisions and funding promises outlined in Title X. By eliminating this funding, Mr. Romney and his party would be denying women access to contraception, life-saving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

If Mr. Romney is attempting to lower the rate of abortion in the United States, then denying women access to family planning resources is counter-intuitive to his stated goals.  Abortion is in fact a less frequent procedure when the rate of unwanted pregnancies is reduced.   The Republican argument that cutting Title X will save the federal government money is misleading, because the program essentially pays for itself. Each federal dollar spent on family planning reduces Medicaid spending on pregnancy and children by about $3.75, resulting in a net gain for the federal government, and preventing the further accruement of debt.

While campaigning, Mr. Romney asserted,  ‘America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home.’  While Mr. Romney claims to support family stability, both domestic and global social ills and increased family instability have come as a direct result of policy proposals similar to those of Mr. Romney and the Republican Party.

Leading Republicans also wish to reinstate the Bush era ‘gag rule’, restricting federal money for overseas family planning and women’s health organisations that provide support, information, referrals, or services for legal abortion, even if the clinics use privately raised money. If the gag rule is re-introduced, funding will be suspended in over 150 countries to programs that aim to improve poor women’s reproductive health, reduce infant mortality, end sex trafficking, and prevent the spread of HIV. Studies show that developing countries suffer more when they struggle with overpopulation. This is common sense: you cannot tackle poverty and instability whilst dealing with a society that is fighting for resources. Struggling countries that have implemented family planning programs have seen improvements in living standards.  Last week, an article in The Economist partly credited the recent social improvements in Bangladesh to the introduction of family planning initiatives. Women’s status in the household improved once they were able to dictate the size of their families, and their incomes increased as they had more wage-earning hours. Child welfare increased because women are more likely to reinvest their income in their family’s well being (health, education, meals, etc).  Other developing countries have realised that family planning, in part, facilitates a strong economy. In the past, developing countries have adhered to the theory that a larger population contributes to a larger workforce. Last year, the Ugandan Minister for Planning, Ephraim Kamuntu, told UN delegates that African countries recognize that as false. Rather, an economy cannot be strong if it does not have the resources to support its population.  How can the United States continue to be a leader in innovation and development while it neglects to recognise common sense solutions for family planning and economic stability?

Women’s issues are not just pertinent to women, nor are they mere social issues sidetracking politicians from fixing the ‘real problems’ America faces.

The Republican Party’s failure to win the White House or gain seats in the Senate demonstrates that their policies are naïve, irresponsible and unsupported by a majority of Americans, and desperately need to be changed if the GOP hopes to be successful in the future.