It can seem, at times, as though the Republican Party’s vocal opposition to reproductive rights has come out of nowhere this year. The 2012 election, after all, was supposed to be about the economy. The GOP seemed destined to nominate a candidate who had, in the past, pledged his support for abortion rights, even going so far as to label himself a “progressive.” President Obama, meanwhile, was seen as cautious on social issues, doing just enough to please his base without alienating the white, working-class voters he will need to win re-election.
After the Obama administration issued its ruling requiring religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for birth control, the right erupted in anger. The furor coincided with the rise of Rick Santorum as the standard-bearer of the religious right and those who describe themselves as “very conservative.” Suddenly, it seemed, social issues had hijacked the election.
As it turns out, the movement to curtail reproductive rights isn’t quite so spontaneous. According to a report released by the Guttmacher Institute on Thursday, the number of states that are “hostile” to abortion rights has doubled in the past decade. The analysis uses the word “hostile” to describe any state with three or more laws restricting access to abortions. According to the report, the number of states fitting that description has gone from 13 to 26 since 2000.
That, according to the Institute, means that more than half of women of reproductive age are living in states with at least three laws restricting access to abortion, up from just one-third in 2000. Perhaps the most striking finding, however, is when these changes occurred. The report indicates a steady climb in the number of laws restricting access to abortion from the early 1990s to 2010, and then a sudden spike in anti-abortion activity in 2011, when states passed a record 93 anti-abortion laws, shattering the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions passed in 2005.
It’s no coincidence, of course, that both of those record-setting years happened right after elections in which Republicans increased their ranks in statehouses across the country. In the 2010 midterms, for example, Republicans captured at least 19 state legislative chambers previously controlled by Democrats. The GOP now controls both houses of the legislature in 25 states, vastly outstripping the Democrats’ influence at the state level.
The Guttmacher Institute report suggests, then, that a coordinated effort to curtail reproductive rights by Republicans and religious conservatives has been taking shape for some time, and is just now bubbling up into the national political discourse. Many Republican politicians see birth control, along with abortion, as a “grievous moral wrong,” as Santorum put it earlier this month, and have been working years to make it harder for women to obtain it.
However, that hasn’t always been the case. Many Republicans, for example, supported Title X, a federally funded family planning program that provides birth control to low-income women. Santorum himself trumpeted his support for Title X just a month ago, in an interview with CBS. “My public policy beliefs are that contraception should be available. Again, I’ve supported Title X funding.” Five days later, Santorum disavowed Title X in a Republican presidential debate, as the birth control controversy began to erupt. Santorum was slammed for a rare act of ideological heresy.
Which is odd given that federal funding for contraception actually helps achieve two of the main goals of the conservative and pro-life movements: Increased funding for birth control actually saves money — and, perhaps, more importantly, prevents hundreds of thousands of unintended pregnancies, nearly half of which end in abortion. According to a separate analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, for example, funding for contraceptive services provided by Title X prevented as many as 973,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2008 alone. 406,200 of those pregnancies, the analysis said, would likely have ended in abortion.
A separate analysis published by the Brookings Institute this week found that taxpayers end up paying for billions of dollars in medical care for unplanned pregnancies, too. According to the report, the cost to taxpayers for Medicaid-subsidized medical care for unintended pregnancies comes to $12 billion annually. The report also found that expanded access to family planning, through Medicaid, would cost taxpayers just $235 million while saving the government an additional $1.32 billion overall, by preventing hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies every year.
That, of course, is unlikely to appease conservative voters and politicians, for whom opposition to birth control and abortion has become a litmus test, of sorts, this year.