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The Undeclared War On Contraception

July 08, 2016

There is an undeclared war being waged in Washington. It is being conducted under a tattered cloak of secrecy by political insurgents who wish to disguise their objectives. Like many undeclared wars, this one lacks public support, thus the lack of a formal declaration of war.

This war, like every war ever conducted, is inflicting casualties, but because it is an undeclared and unpopular war, the aggressors do not claim responsibility for the casualties they inflict.

As in many wars, declared or undeclared, the victims are the most vulnerable.

Like many undeclared wars, this one is being waged under other banners, for this is a war being pursued without formal authorization. The leaders dare not reveal its true identity.

The war is not progressing as hoped. There is no real prospect of complete victory, but as in many undeclared wars the aggressors persist, hoping to obtain more limited, unstated objectives.

So the perpetrators of this war persist, as with many undeclared wars, in hopes—however, vain—that popular opinion will ultimately shift and lend much needed support to their cause.

I am writing, of course, about the undeclared war on contraception. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have been waging this war for several years now. They have pursued this war under many banners. It has been fought under the “pro-life” banner. It has been fought under the banner of “fiscal responsibility.” It has been fought under the banner of “religious liberty.” It is now being fought under the banner of “fighting Zika.”

Republican leaders in the House this week revealed their plans to fund the fight against the Zika virus by eliminating funds for Title X, a federal program that has been helping to provide contraceptive services to low-income households since 1969.

This is not the first attack on Title X. A House majority, under Republican leadership, has voted four times in recent years to defund Title X. Nor will it be the last attempt to wipe out federal support for Title X; opposition to contraceptive services appears to have become part of their political DNA. But this latest attempt to defund Title X is the most cynical. And it is not just cynical. It is diabolical. House Republicans are also proposing a cut of more than $100 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs.

The Zika virus is an evolving threat, but at present the chief threat is the risk of severe birth defects caused by microcephaly. That is why governments in Central America and South America are warning women at high risk for Zika to avoid getting pregnant.

Anyone truly concerned about the Zika virus—inside or outside the United States—should be seeking to provide additional contraceptive support to women who are at high risk for being infected with Zika. In the United States, that would mean providing additional funding for the provision of contraceptive services to women in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. And most of that funding, of course, should go to help low-income women who might otherwise not have access to family planning clinics and contraceptive services. In other words, we should be boosting support for something like...Title X.

Thanks to the White House and Republican and Democratic opposition in the United State Senate, prior attempts by House Republicans to eliminate Title X have failed. Republican leaders in the House hope, of course, that the urgent need for Zika funding will give them the additional leverage they need to exact severe cuts in Title X funding. 

The war on contraception is also being waged at the state level, where—in addition to eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood clinics providing contraceptive services—funding for family planning clinics has been cut under the banner of “fiscal responsibility.” And that is yet another cynical ploy. Cuts in support for family planning—at whatever level of government, state or federal—substantially increase government outlays, most notably Medicaid.

The undeclared war on contraception been waged with great vigor in at least one state that will likely be affected by the spread of Zika: Texas. A few years back, as part of a broader campaign to drive Planned Parenthood out of business, Texas approved draconian cuts in support for family planning clinics. After it became clear that the cuts were likely to result in a substantial boost in state Medicare spending, the Texas legislature two years later restored some of the funding, but, in many communities in Texas today, family planning services for low-income women remain curtailed or inaccessible. And, if Zika does become a significant health risk in Texas, women in these communities will be at increased risk of having a child with severe birth defects.

If the United States House of Representatives wants to persist in its efforts to eliminate Title X, the leaders of this campaign should drop the false pretenses.

It’s time to end the undeclared war on contraception.


This op-ed by Population Institute President Robert Walker originally ran on July 8, 2016 on The Huffington Post

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