It’s long been clear that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, wants to make sure that women who experience unintended and untenable pregnancies have no other choice than to stay pregnant. Last month he enacted regulations on abortion clinics widely condemned by the medical community and having no relationship to either public health or medical standards.
Now, however, McDonnell wants to make sure that those who don’t want to be pregnant get pregnant. According to Anita Kumar in the Washington Post, McDonnell has proposed eliminating funding for teen pregnancy prevention and sex education programs across the state.
His proposed budget would cut the entire $455,000 in state funding to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative which supports programs at schools and clinics in seven health districts, including Alexandria, which have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the state. This is the last in a series of cuts that have weakened the program over the past two years. In fiscal 2010, money for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was reduced by $155,000, according to the state. The next year, funding fell an additional $237,000.
According to Kumar, “McDonnell’s administration says that the money is being discontinued because the initiative has not worked — and that the localities continue to experience pregnancy rates above the state average.”
“Although Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate is below the national average, she writes, “28 cities and counties are above the national average. In 2010, 10,970 teen pregnancies were reported in Virginia.”
At this point, this should come as no surprise. It isn’t the agenda of the so-called social conservative anti-choice community to “protect life.” Instead, it is the goal to undermine women’s gains access to education, employment and participation in the social sphere and to protect the patriarchy.
Yes, I know, for putting that out there all the “sensible” people will tell me (and you) that I am exaggerating. But, how else to analyze a series of moves in Virginia and elsewhere to persistently undermine access to contraception and family planning servcies writ large, especially for low-income women, to eliminate access to safe abortion care, and to simultaneously cut funds for child care, infant care, health care for low-income people and other critically necessary social supports? This is just the reproductive side of the far right’s overall vision of slashing wages, killing off unions, undermining environmental protections, and eroding voting rights, among other actions now being taken in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and elsewhere.
McDonnell’s office tells the Post that the state Department of Health has recently been awarded several federal grants that promote maternal and child health, “including $3.7 million to pay for home visits in certain communities and $4.5 million to support pregnant and parenting student services at participating colleges and universities.”
But what about teens and young adult women who do not wish to be either pregnant or parenting? They are clearly SOL as far as access to affordable family planning services.
McDonnell’s excuse is that this will save money:
“This administration is focused on making state government more efficient and effective,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. “That means looking at every state program to determine if it is actually a wise and prudent use of limited state resources. Given this program’s failure to change teen pregnancy rates in the respective communities, and the lack of a strong ongoing program evaluation, the administration believes there is a better use for these monies and other evidence-based methods that may find greater success. We are focused on ensuring that state funding is provided for programs that are proven to work. In these tough economic times, we must make sure that limited state dollars are used on programs and policies that are successful and effective.”
But this is the ultra-conservative canard. Teen pregnancies cost more than preventing unwanted teen pregnancies. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:
- Increasing the proportion of pregnancies that are wanted and welcomed by both parents helps reduce child poverty and income disparities, improve overall family well-being, and reduce taxpayers’ costs.
- Women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy are less likely than women who have an intended pregnancy to obtain early prenatal care and their babies are at increased risk of both low birthweight and preterm birth.
- At the age of two, children born as the result of unplanned pregnancy have significantly lower cognitive test scores when compared to children born as the result of an intended pregnancy.
- Both mothers and fathers who have an unplanned birth report less happiness and more conflict in their relationship compared to similar women and men who have a planned birth.
These cuts make no sense from any vantage point except that of a religious ideologue using government power to impose a vision of social order that is out of step with reality.
And of course, women and girls will suffer.
“The elimination of this long-standing health program could have serious consequences for women and girls’ health,” Katherine Greenier, director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia, told the Post.
“Teens need good information and services to make informed, healthy choices. To ensure a decline in teen pregnancy rates continue we must provide teens with the necessary information, education and resources.’’
The program now on the chopping block worked with 4,642 teens in fiscal 2010, including those at the Teen Wellness Center at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, which serves youths 12 to 19.
Officials of the city of Alexandria, concerned about the cuts, are lobbying to have the money restored. Del. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria) has introduce an amendment to the budget to restore the money statewide, according to Kumar.
The General Assembly will consider McDonnell’s budget recommendations during its 60-day session, which started last week. Legislators have the power to overhaul or ignore his 483-page plan.