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Friday, March 17, 2006

The Carrot or the Stick?

Missouri House rejects spending for birth control

Missouri stopped providing money for family planning and certain women's health services when Republicans gained control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2003.

But a Democratic lawmaker, in a little-noticed committee amendment, had successfully inserted language into the proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that would have allowed part of the $9.2 million intended for "core public health functions" to go to contraception provided through public health clinics.

The House voted 96-59 to delete the funding for contraception and infertility treatments after Rep. Susan Phillips told lawmakers that anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Right to Life were opposed to the spending.

Their logic boggles the mind. Let me see if I understand this correctly:

1. You're an anti-abortion group called Missouri Right to Life.
2. Assuming you live up to your name, you oppose abortion.
3. But you apparently also oppose helping women get access to contraceptives which would prevent the need for abortion in the first place.

Maybe I am missing something here? Let's read on, shall we.

The family planning program that was canceled in 2003 had provided state grants for women's health care services. Anti-abortion lawmakers had battled in court for years to try to prevent that money from going to Planned Parenthood, which also provides abortions.

This year's provision, inserted by Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis, would have avoided the Planned Parenthood controversy by only providing contraception through public health clinics. It primarily would have affected women who lack private insurance but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, which provides contraception under federal rules.

So Donnelly was trying to bend over backwards to appease the "pro-lifers" and they still wouldn't budge. I don't get it? The funding was targeted to public health clinics only (which I'm assuming in Missouri do not provide abortions). If I were a member of Missouri Right to Life, I'd be all over this. It is the best of both worlds: no funding for abortion and prevention of abortion.

There must be something else to this? Let's continue.

"If you hand out contraception to single women, we're saying promiscuity is OK as a state, and I am not in support of that," Phillips, R-Kansas City, said in an interview.

OK, now I see the problem.

Susan, your lack of political savvy is appalling, but I can understand your confusion. When I think of "women who lack private insurance but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid" I automatically assume they are single as well. And that might have very well been the case back in the good old days we all long for. But today, for whatever reason, a lot of women who lack private insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid are actually married. So in effect, you are alienating a percentage of your constituency by implying that they are single and promiscuous (they go hand in hand after all) when they are really just poor. And you and I both know that you don't want to alienate poor voters, not in this economy. As the wealth continues to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands, Republicans will need all the poor voters they can get.

So I'm going to offer you some advice to get you out of the mess you have created. Instead of outright denying funding for contraceptives, why not just attach a rider to the Democrat's proposal requiring that a woman be married before she can get contraceptives? You can't miss, it's a win-win for everyone.

1. You won't alienate all those poor married women whose support you are going to need in the future.

2. You are promoting traditional family values by encouraging single women to get married.

3. You are defending the sanctity of marriage. Women who have access to contraceptives will have less worry about unwanted pregnancy. Thus, they will be more willing to fullfill their wifely duties and then their husbands won't need to look elsewhere.

4. You are promoting sound economic policy. Fewer poor children equals less government handouts which means even more tax breaks for everyone.

Oh yeah, I guess there is that whole thing about reducing the number of abortions, which I'm sure you support 100%. The thing is though, if you push that angle, then people are going to start asking why you don't want to reduce abortions for poor single woman as well? While this question may seem logical, they just don't understand that abortion isn't the primary focus here. Encouraging Family Values is the real issue. So just keep repeating the spin: "Family Values will encourage marriage. Married women will be able to get contraceptives. Contraceptives will keep dad happy." But if at all possible, don't bring up the abortion issue if you can avoid it. You're a little weak on this one.

So let's go over this one more time. Punishing the poor is out (at least overtly), it only alienates potential voters. Encouraging marriage is good, it plays to those traditional heartland values. Rewarding married women with contraceptives not only allows you to score much needed political points, but it allows you to continue to punish single women who should know better.

You see, a win-win for everyone.


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