All but 12 House Republicans voted for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act two weeks ago, which would ban abortions in the country 20 weeks after fertilization. But for the party of supposed fiscal restraint, such a move comes with a cost. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the bill last week and found that it would increase government spending and deficits. This should surprise no one, however. Reducing access to women’s reproductive choices comes with a high price tag for taxpayers.
In scoring the House bill, the CBO said, “Depending on the number of additional births under H.R. 1797, such Medicaid costs could range from about $75 million over the next 10 years to more than $400 million over that period.” The bill would increase the deficit by $75 million between 2014 and 2018 and by $225 million from 2014 to 2023. These costs are thanks to the fact that 40 percent of all births are paid for by Medicaid and additional births will drive up those costs.
On top of this, some of those children will end up qualifying for Medicaid and potentially other safety net programs. The women who seek out abortion later in their pregnancies are often low income and need to delay the procedure until they can save up enough money. Their children are likely to need assistance from government programs.
These 20-week abortion bans aren’t just sponsored by fiscal conservatives at the federal level. Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster in the Texas state house last week was to protest a bill that would criminalize the procedure after that cut off. North Dakota has gone far further, criminalizing abortion after just six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant. Eleven other states have enacted similar legislation.
Texas, however, should know that cutting off reproductive choices can drive up the government’s costs. In 2011, state legislators slashed funding for family planning services by $73 million in an attempt to deny Planned Parenthood taxpayer dollars because it provides abortions, despite the fact that the clinics that receive state subsidies didn’t provide the service. Denying low-income women access to family planning services was going to mean the delivery of 24,000 babies that they wouldn’t otherwise have had, which were going to cost Texans as much as $273 million thanks to medical expenses and covering their infants under Medicaid.
After staring down those numbers, Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have started working to reinstate the funds. They might even devote more money to women’s health services in the 2014–15 budget. But Planned Parenthood may still be left out. If it is, the state will still see increased costs, to the tune of an estimated $5.5 million to $6.6 million, because it will have to pay for the entire women’s health program on its own instead of getting the 90 federal matching funds.
In general, attacking women’s health choices costs taxpayers. Family planning programs save the federal government $3.74 for every dollar spent by providing women with access to contraception and avoiding unplanned births. Providing women who seek an abortion with the services they need doesn’t just avert government spending on unwanted births. A recent study found that women who were unable to obtain an abortion were three times more likely to fall into poverty in the subsequent two years than those who succeeded. That likely means more women who need to access federal programs.