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Studies Highlight the Fiscal Burden of Unintended Pregnancy on Nation’s Taxpayers

For the first time ever, studies revealed estimates of the public financial cost of unintended pregnancy in the United States on a national level.[1] Findings from two different studies recently released by the Guttmacher Institute and the Brookings Institution both estimated that unintended pregnancies cost taxpayers an approximate $11 billion every year.[2] Already a steep figure, the $11 billion is a conservative estimate, taking into account only the burden on public insurance from pregnancy and infant care in the first year.[3] These findings come at a time when many policy makers and politicians, in the name of fiscal austerity, are pushing for cuts in funding to family planning services and more comprehensive approaches to sexuality education that prevent unintended pregnancies and in turn, as the studies support, increase public savings.
 
Guttmacher and Brookings separately reached the $11 billion cost conclusion through two different methodologies. The Guttmacher study, titled “The Public Costs of Births Resulting From Unintended Pregnancies: National and State-Level Estimates,” used 2006 state-level data on unintended pregnancies paid for with Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.[4] When the authors of the study combined the costs of publicly funded unintended pregnancies (and the subsequent births and first-year infant care) in each state, they came to the national total of $11.1 billion.[5]
 
In a news release, the Guttmacher Institute’s Rebecca Wind notes that according to the study, “two-thirds of births resulting from unintended pregnancies—more than one billion births—are publicly funded, and the proportion tops 80% in a couple states.”[6] This suggests that investment in family planning, if it works to prevent unintended pregnancy, could save the nation the cost of one billion births that currently are being paid for with taxpayer money. So concludes Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and lead author of the study, who notes that “investments in programs and policies to reduce unintended pregnancies not only would enable women and families to meet their childbearing needs, but would produce public savings that would strengthen government finances and the sustainability of the nation’s health care safety-net programs.”[7]
 
The second study, titled “Unintended Pregnancy and Taxpayer Spending” and conducted by the Brookings Institution, estimated the cost of unintended pregnancy by multiplying the estimated number of procedures or conditions resulting from unintended pregnancy (abortion, fetal loss, birth, and need for infant medical care) for the year 2001 by the average cost of each of these outcomes.[8] According to this methodology, the authors found that the average cost of unintended pregnancy each year is $11.3 billion, corroborating the findings from the Guttmacher study.[9] This number means that for every publicly subsidized unintended pregnancy in this country, taxpayers pay, on average, $9,000.[10]
 
Authors of both studies agree that the potential public savings from the prevention of unintended pregnancy are “enormous” and that family planning services, along with evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, make a significant contribution to savings on taxpayer-financed medical care.[11] In fact, comments Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute, “In the absence of the services provided by publicly funded family planning centers, the costs of unintended pregnancy would be 60% higher than they are today.”[12] Such findings directly contradict the recent assertions made by fiscal and social conservatives in Congress that the services provided by family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood present the nation with an unnecessary cost. Sonfield notes, “At a time when policymakers everywhere are looking for ways to cut costs under Medicaid, these findings point clearly to a way to achieve that goal by expanding access to health care, not cutting it.”[13]
 
 

[1]Adam Sonfield et al., “The Public Costs of Births Resulting from Unintended Pregnancies: National and State-Level Estimates,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43.2(June 2011): 94.
[2]Rebecca Wind, “Nation Pays Steep Price for High Rates of Unintended Pregnancy: New State-Level Incidence Estimated Provide First-Ever Benchmark for Evaluating Impact of State Policies,” Guttmacher Institute, 19 May 2011, accessed 24 March 2011, <http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2011/05/19/index.html>.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Sonfield et al., “The Public Costs of Births Resulting from Unintended Pregnancies: National and State-Level Estimates,” 94.
[5]Wind, “Nation Pays Steep Price for High Rates of Unintended Pregnancy.”
[6]Ibid.
[7]Sonfield et al., “The Public Costs of Births Resulting from Unintended Pregnancies: National and State-Level Estimates,” 99–100.
[8]Emily Monea and Adam Thomas, “Unintended Pregnancy and Taxpayer Spending,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43.2(June 2011): 88.
[9]Ibid.
[10]Ibid.
[11]Wind, “Nation Pays Steep Price for High Rates of Unintended Pregnancy.”
[12]Ibid.
[13]Ibid.

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