Family planning services are wise investment

By Beth Richardson

Columbia attorney with Tell Them, an e-advocacy network supported by the New Morning Foundation, a member of the SC Progressive Network

The Legislature faces the unenviable task of finding ways to reconcile the state’s budget while continuing to provide meaningful services to its citizens. What many lawmakers do not see, however, is the great opportunity to achieve a documented 17:1 return on investment simply by restoring funding for family planning services.

Births to teen mothers in South Carolina cost taxpayers upwards of $156 million annually. (In Richland and Lexington counties alone, that number reaches $15 million.) We have the eighth-highest rate of pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in the nation, and our state’s teen pregnancy rates are on the rise. In some rural counties, the rates can be as high as 200 pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 18 to 19. Why? They have received virtually no family planning education in school, and due to a series of state budget cuts, they have no access to contraceptive counseling and clinical services in their isolated rural communities.

A state’s money invested in family planning services offers a strong return on investment and represents sound fiscal policy. A cost-benefit analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa found that in as little as five years, a state can save $17 for every tax dollar invested in programs and clinics that help prevent unintended pregnancies among 14- to 19-year-olds.

Of course economics are only one part of the equation. Restoring state funding for family planning services will mean fewer unintended pregnancies, so fewer children will be born into situations where they will be at greater risk of child abuse or neglect.

Here is what we know: Children born to mothers age 15 and younger are twice as likely to be abused or neglected in the first five years of their lives than are the children born to mothers ages 20 to 21. They are more likely to grow up in a poor and mother-only family, to live in an impoverished or underprivileged neighborhood and to suffer high risks to both their health status and potential school achievement. Poverty, inadequate social support, mothers’ lack of education, mothers’ cognitive immaturity and greater maternal stress all have been suggested as possible factors contributing to unsatisfactory social and educational outcomes for the children of teen mothers, many of whom never were intended.

One in four children and nearly half of single-mother families are expected to be poor in 2011. Making further progress in reducing teen pregnancy will benefit the national and state economies as well as improve the educational, health and social prospects for this generation of young people and the next.

On March 23, thousands of South Carolinians are taking part in our state’s first-ever virtual march on the State House. They believe, as we do, that one of the most fiscally responsible actions our Legislature can take is to properly fund age-appropriate reproductive health education and access to services for all South Carolinians. By protecting all children and young adults now, we can save millions of dollars in public health care and welfare services in the future.

It’s our responsibility to stand together on behalf of all these young people, so that each of them can have the opportunity for a future that is bright and healthy. We must take a long view, and invest in programs that will make South Carolina a healthier state.