Science v. Ideology

Posted by Beatrice Alvarez and Silvia Henriquez

When it comes to family planning and reproductive choice, conservatives and progressives alike find agreement on a common objective: more pregnancies in the United States should be wanted, and far fewer should be unwanted. Wanted pregnancies result in better life opportunities for women, their children, and their families.

But when does an unwanted pregnancy become a barrier to opportunity? When reproductive health is politicized and science takes a backseat to ideology. A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute describes just one result of such policies — an increase in unplanned pregnancies, with disproportionate negative consequences for low-income women, immigrant women and women of color.

Guttmacher found that half of unplanned pregnancies are carried to term, and are associated with negative health and social impacts for both mother and child. Guttmacher also found that low-income women and women of color have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than their wealthier and white counterparts. From 1994 to 2001 low-income women’s rate of unintended pregnancies increased by 29%, while the rate for women at or twice the poverty level declined by 20%. As a consequence poor women had unintended births at five times the rate of their counterparts in the highest income category in 2001.

The Bush administration has slashed funding for the family planning programs, like Title X, that can help these very women take control of their lives. Those same political views have also touched the Centers for Disease Control, most recently in the form of a deal to promote ideology among foremost scientific research at the upcoming National STD Prevention Conference. The abstinence-only programs that have taken the place of comprehensive education fail to give women the tools necessary to achieve their maximum potential. In fact, they have been shown to give false information and distort medical research. Comprehensive sex education empowers young women by allowing them to decide for themselves if and when to have a child.

In other words, the administration continues to trap low-income women and women of color into unplanned motherhood, poverty, and insecurity.

As a woman, determining her reproductive destiny is critical if she is to be an active and full participant in society, care for her family, and make informed decisions about her future. Yet for many women, particularly women of color, low-income women, and immigrant women, the lack of access to basic family planning services is only part of the struggle. The political body presents a new struggle for broader women’s health. Turning women’s bodies and women’s lives into ideological battlegrounds creates obstacles to opportunity for women.

Read the Guttmacher Study here.
For a concise summary, read The Opportunity Agenda Fact Sheet on unintended pregnancies.

Beatrice Alvarez is a Research Associate for The Opportunity Agenda, a communications, research and advocacy organization with the mission of building the national will to expand opportunity in America.

Silvia Henriquez is Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, a national policy and advocacy organization that advances the reproductive health and rights of all Latinas, their families and communities.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the staff, management and directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, its affiliates, or its chapters