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Cutting family planning only costs us more

Published 10:22am Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Column: Jennifer Vogt-Erickson, My Point of View

When my mom used to talk about a girl who had a baby in high school or out of wedlock, she would use the phrase, “Well, she made her bed. Now she has to lie in it.”

The news this past week of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Albert Lea closing Aug. 1 caught me by surprise.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Though I’ve never been through the doors of a Planned Parenthood clinic myself, it was one of the things I was pleased to see when my husband and I first moved to town six years ago.

To me, it symbolizes compassion and commitment to young women and children, even with its limited hours. I have friends who drove 30 miles to the clinic in Brainerd back in high school, and that one is closing, too. It is like a door slamming shut on mainly poor women who want to take charge of their lives and make a better future for the children they have now or eventually have later.

The clinics are closing as the result of budget cuts, but budget cuts are arbitrary, even in this economic downturn. Title X was targeted by legislators who made a choice that family planning should not be funded fully. This was not an economic decision, because Planned Parenthood saves our country more money than it costs due to reducing the need for social services and providing preventative health care.

It is a smart economic program if one is trying to rescue our country’s budget, but it runs into staunch ideological opposition. It got dragged into the battleground of abortion, even though 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are not related to abortion. (The Albert Lea clinic does not perform abortions.)

These cuts are senseless and destructive. I cannot think of one person off the top of my head who likes abortions. I think we can pretty much agree on this: Abortions are not anything to celebrate. They usually occur due to unfortunate, even heartbreaking, circumstances. Because I don’t like abortion, I’m fully supportive of Planned Parenthood. It likely prevents more abortions than it performs by providing women with free or low-cost contraceptives (to say nothing of all the other health services it provides). It also helps young women prevent pregnancies that turn them into mothers before they are financially and emotionally ready to support a child.

Why on earth are these services a problem for some people, including some powerful and ostensibly prudent legislators? Should only people who can afford contraceptives have access to them? Is it still scary for women to have control of their lives? Do only “sluts” have sex outside of marriage? When a woman gets married, should she have as many children as God, not she and husband with the aid of contraceptives, sees fit for her to produce? Some of these are harsh things to say, but I’m not joking around. Let us peer deep within ourselves for these answers, because I think we all want children to grow up in the best circumstances possible.

As a high school teacher, I have students every year who get pregnant or give birth, and I cry over each one of them. There are other girls whom I say a prayer for on a daily basis — “Please get through high school before having a baby, Amen.”

Their lives and their children’s lives will in all likelihood be much harder if they have babies in high school. And from a utilitarian standpoint, it’s a drain on the resources of our school and our entire society when kids grow up in impoverished and strained circumstances.

Let us please support young girls and women when they want to make responsible reproductive choices. It will help them and their children avoid a life at risk of economic instability and all the complications that go with it.

Starting Aug. 1, some still will be able to make the drive to Mankato or Rochester, but gas money or the extra travel time will be obstacles for many. These barriers, however, are open doors to unintended pregnancies. We should restore these resources here, for the good of everybody.

When we cut family planning, we as a society are making our bed.

Albert Lea resident Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the DFL Party.