Prevent abortion by reducing demand

Almost half of all Minnesota pregnancies are unintended.

Divisive political fights over abortion make it difficult to find common ground. But a positive approach to reducing the number of abortions performed should appeal to people on both sides of the divide. If we can cut the number of abortions in half – not by making them more difficult to obtain, but by preventing the need – shouldn’t people on both sides of the abortion debate agree that this is progress?

An aggressive approach to family planning and sexuality education can prevent thousands of unintended pregnancies. The most recent peer-reviewed study of family planning cost-effectiveness, analyzing California’s program, showed that for every $1 million spent on family planning, more than 900 unintended pregnancies were prevented and more than 350 abortions were avoided. Over time, it saved money too.

Minnesota does better than some states, but we have a long way to go. Fifty-three of Minnesota’s 87 counties do not have a family planning clinic. Last year, the Legislature made the situation worse by cutting funds for family planning. In addition, despite strong public support for comprehensive sexuality education that includes a focus on abstinence and contraception, many Minnesota students receive “abstinence-only” classes that provide no information about contraception.

Inadequate prevention efforts come at a heavy cost. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, almost half of all Minnesota pregnancies are unintended and half of those end in abortion. We have the opportunity to change this. Working with experts in family planning and in sexuality education, we developed legislation, Senate File 1665, to redouble Minnesota’s efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections.

This legislation costs money, but ultimately, it saves taxpayers far more through reductions in medical assistance, welfare and other social service costs for low-income mothers and their children. In California, the unintended pregnancies prevented by family planning efforts saved $4.48 in public expenditures for every $1 spent.

Senate File 1665 would:

• Ensure access to family planning services in every county and establish a Web site for information and referrals to local providers

• Require social workers to provide family planning information to clients receiving public assistance and require clinics to provide such information to women receiving abortions

• Require all school districts to provide comprehensive family life and sexuality education and provide grants for school-based reproductive health clinics

• Re-establish afterschool enrichment programs for at-risk youths

• Reform Minnesota’s Education Now and Babies Later program so that, while

it would still promote abstinence, it would provide comprehensive sexuality education and promote male sexual responsibility as well.

This does not come cheap. If the state fails to secure an expected federal family planning waiver, this proposal could initially cost as much as $52 million per biennium, including $5.5 million for the afterschool enrichment program. But these are initial costs, before savings are tallied. Factor in the big savings in health and human services costs that result from a sharp decline in unintended pregnancies, and SF 1665 provides major savings to taxpayers over the next 10 years.

Unfortunately, this legislation might not score points with anti-abortion lobbying organizations because it does nothing to interfere with the intensely personal decisions made by women struggling with an unintended pregnancy. And it is painful to acknowledge that many teens are sexually active, even though we prefer them to remain abstinent.

Sen. John Marty is editor of To the Point!, an e-mail newsletter. He welcomes comments at [email protected]