Brief shows economic costs of unintended pregnancy

A new brief by The Brookings Institution provides an in-depth look at the widespread U.S. problem of unintended pregnancy, its economic impact on society and what serves as cost-effective public policy to combat the issue.

Source: March 2012 Center on Children and Families at Brookings report, Policy Solutions for Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy.

According to author Adam Thomas, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and some causal studies have indicated the these pregnancies and subsequent childbearing have hindered educational and professional development for the women. The children born under such circumstances, according to the causal studies, are prone to higher crime rates, less academic achievement, poorer health and diminished economic standing.

While those impacts are likely to unsurprising, Thomas also estimates that taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care in relation to unplanned pregnancy amounts to $12 billion annually.

Thomas provides three possible contributing factors to the problem, and notes that all can be affected by public policy decisions.

…[T]here is strong evidence that expansions in access to publicly subsidized family planning services can affect rates of contraceptive use and unintended childbearing. Family planning services (including the provision of contraception) are made available to low-income women via Medicaid. Eligibility for these services has historically been limited to women who are pregnant and mothers whose incomes place them below a very low threshold. Since the mid-1990s, however, the federal government has granted waivers to about half the states allowing them to serve all income eligible women — regardless of whether they are pregnant or have children — and in most cases allowing states to raise their income eligibility thresholds as well. … [T]hese expansions resulted in a reduction of about 5 percent in the number of sexually active adult women who fail to use contraception at a given act of intercourse … [and] reductions of about 4 percent in the number of births to teens and about 2 percent in the number of births to nonteens. …

Pulling such information into benefit-cost simulations, Thomas concludes that such public policies are cost-effective for taxpayers and make particular sense in the current economic climate.

… The research reviewed in this brief shows that evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions are public policy trifectas: they generate taxpayer savings, they improve the lives of children and families, and they reduce the incidence of abortion. …

Much attention and energy has been devoted over the past decade to promoting marriage as a strategy for reducing the number of children growing up in single-parent families. However, marriage promotion programs have a mixed record at best — only one locally implemented program has thus far been found by a rigorous evaluation to have notable effects — and they are still in the research and development stage as a result. On the other hand, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that meaningful reductions in single parenthood can be achieved via expansions of policies that curb unintended and out-of-wedlock childbearing. …

In other words, if lawmakers are truly interested in saving taxpayers money and reducing abortion rates, they should focus on public policy that has the best track record for attaining those goals. Reductions to or elimination of family planning services, such as those provided by Planned Parenthood, shouldn’t even be on the table.

Policy Solutions for Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy

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A Republican turned Democrat who is now registered with no party, Lynda is the founder of Essential Estrogen. She and her husband live in eastern Iowa with their two (mostly good) children and two (mostly good) dogs. Their oldest child was turned loose on the world in 2011 and is making her home in another state. A journalist, essayist and hobby fiction writer, Lynda's work has been seen in Salon, RH Reality Check, the Atlantic, The Iowa Independent, UK Guardian as well as other online and traditional publications. She has also appeared as a guest on various television and radio news shows.

2 Responses to “Brief shows economic costs of unintended pregnancy”

  1. Alice
    March 15, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    It only makes sense that if you want to reduce abortion, you support birth control and family planning services. The only reason for not doing so is if your purpose has absolutely nothing to do with abortion reduction and is instead focused on keeping women in a certain place within society.


  1. Iowa lawmakers nod to Texas tricks, put all family planning at risk | - March 17, 2012

    [...] A recent brief also highlighted the economic reasons why taxpayers should support family planning and science-based sexual education. Unintended pregnancy not only causes hardship on the individuals impacted, but draws significantly from taxpayers’ coffers — and not due to abortion, which generally cannot be paid for by using public funds. Studies have shown that for every $1 investment in family planning, $4 in other costs are saved. [...]