HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

Facts of Reproductive Life

Ninth grade biology. Why did I sleep through it? And physics – those strange laws of actions and reactions. Plus women – what bizarre perverse creatures. What pesky sex drives. Who woulda thunk?

Key Republican legislators have been flummoxed by the facts of life. Maybe their conservatively right-thinking schools failed them. Maybe their parents’ reticence deluded them. Maybe ideology trumped common sense. They live in a world of myths.

The first myth of the campaign season: “legitimate” rape will never lead to pregnancy, because the female reproductive system shuts down to the unwanted sperm. US Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), joined by a few other intrepid souls, implicitly suggested a victim-trial – a modern variation on the Salem witch-trials. If a rape victim did get pregnant, the rape was not “legitimate.” If she didn’t, the rape was legitimate.

Fortunately for women (and the subcommittee on science where Rep. Akin served), women rose to debunk this idiotic litmus test. Rep. Akin, as of January, is no longer a representative.

Now come the Texas Republican legislators, another intrepid bunch of he-men who voted to cut funding for all Planned Parenthood clinics, because some did abortions. Public health officials protested. After all, Planned Parenthood offered a range of services to women, including contraception.

As for contraception, some people argued the facts of reproductive life, the laws of physics, and the psychology of sex. Contraception gives women control over their fertility. Men have easy access to condoms (indeed, men can have vasectomies far more easily than women can have tubal ligations), but women are not directly in charge of men’s decisions. For a woman, the surest way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence; but women, as well as their partners, often enjoy sex, seeing it as part of a relationship, not strictly a means to procreate. So contraception is a solution – whether a device, a pill, a hormonal patch. Women can’t just go to the local pharmacy to buy these; women need a prescription from a physician – which is desirable, since the women ideally get medical oversight at the same time.

Women with health insurance simply make an appointment with a private obstetrician/gynecologist. Uninsured women, women with no regular physician, especially young women, have had the option of Planned Parenthood.

Nevertheless, Texas legislators held firm. The state diverted the $73 million from Planned Parenthood to programs that did not do “family planning.” The legislators exulted: the state would ax one budget line-item, reduce government interference in medical care, and extol morality. A trifecta to cheer conservative constituents.

Alas! The legislators never expected the confluence of biology and physics to kick in. The first surprise: more births. One projection is that during 2014-2015 Texas will welcome 23,760 more babies than would have been born, before the funding cuts. These babies will be born to poor women.

The second surprise: these babies will swell the Medicaid rolls, which will in turn deplete the state’s strained budget. (Emily Ramshaw, “Likely Increase in Births has some lawmakers revisiting cuts,” New York Times, December 7, 2012). The decision to cut Planned Parenthood’s $73 million will cost Texas more than $270 million.

In fairness to Texas’s bureaucrats, many in state government did foresee the sequelae of the Planned Parenthood cuts. The Legislative Budget Board predicted the increase in births and the increase in state costs.

Conservative honchos are torn. On the one hand, they don’t want abortions; they don’t want government to fund them; they don’t want government to fund contraceptives. (They don’t want government to fund much). On the other hand, this ideological stance has proven expensive.

Who woulda thunk that upholding conservative principles would cost so much? Or that women would be such perversely inexplicable creatures?

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2013

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