Family Planning Fights Poverty

July 18, 2017

Woman doctor talking to woman patient.Advocates have long pointed to reproductive health services and family planning resources as crucial components of the fight against poverty. Until recently, support for family planning was decidedly non-controversial. Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Economic Opportunity Act included heavy investment in federal family planning programs. Richard Nixon declared that “Unwanted or untimely childbearing is one of several forces which are driving many families into poverty or keeping them in that condition” and signed Title X, the legislation that funds reproductive health services for low-income people.

Over time, this evidence-based approach to improving the well-being of families has given way to objections based on religious grounds. This is a dangerous development because the positive effects of reliable contraception are significant. A 2013 review by the Guttmacher Institute found that teen pregnancy interferes with young women’s ability to graduate high school and college, while planning and spacing births helps women achieve their education and career goals, and thereby can reduce their chances of needing public assistance. The review also found that unplanned births can increase conflict in a relationship, and are linked to depression, anxiety, and lower reported levels of happiness. There is further evidence that parents who are less likely to be prepared for parenthood may invest less in their children, which can influence the child’s development.

The positive effects of federal family planning programs that provide that reliable contraception are similarly undeniable. Research at the University of Michigan found that:

  • Federally funded family planning programs made children 15 percent less likely to live in households receiving public assistance, 4 percent less likely to live in households with a single parent, and 5 percent ess likely to live in poverty.
  • Children conceived after the start of federal funding in 1965 lived in households with higher annual incomes.
  • By 1970, women below the poverty line in counties with federally funded programs were 16-20 percent more likely to have ever used oral contraception.

It’s sound fiscal policy as well: two-thirds of unplanned births are paid for by public insurance programs.

People of all faiths, and from all along the political and economic spectrum, use counseling and contraception to help plan their most important decisions in life, and to ensure that when they choose to have children they are financially and emotionally prepared to help them prosper. Denying these services to families who cannot afford it serves to weaken, not strengthen them.

Published: July 18, 2017