Nancy Pelosi made “stupid” history this week by her claim that “family planning” funds will stimulate the economy. Her argument, if you can dignify it with that term, is that reducing unwanted pregnancies will reduce the burden on taxpayers. But she doesn’t ask herself whether more contraception is really the answer to “unwanted” pregnancies
I recently had the opportunity to visit with some teen mothers in Reno, Nevada. Casa de Vida is a private, nonprofit corporation providing a home and support services for pregnant young women. The youngest was 14; the oldest was just 20. These are, presumably, the mothers whose pregnancies are expensive to the taxpayers. These young unmarried mothers need a variety of social services in order to take care of their babies. The Casa has a special classroom set up in their basement, so the girls can finish high school. Some will be unable to go back to their families for a variety of reasons and will need subsidized housing. Many take advantage of jobs training programs. And, of course, virtually none of them have their own health insurance, so the taxpayers pay for medical care for the mothers and babies. The social worker refers them to the public services for which they qualify.
I came at the invitation of some of the board members to talk with the girls about sex. Their social worker wanted me to help them think about having a plan for dealing with the desires they are sure to have for another relationship with a man. Neither I nor the social worker had any illusion that one chat in an afternoon will change the whole course of their lives. But we do hope that we gave them a few thoughts that will lodge in their brains when they need them later.
So we talked about their hopes and dreams for their babies. These young women want to be good mothers, and they want to be loved. Right now, they are focused on the immediate fact that their babies will be born soon. I tried to help them think about their futures beyond the birth of their babies. One day, they will be interested in boys again. Their social worker had told me that a) most of them won’t even consider adoption and b) most of them will be pregnant again within two years.
Talking with them helped me to see why the whole contraception approach to avoiding teen pregnancy is so hopeless. These girls get pregnant because they want to: they want to be loved by their boyfriends, and by their babies. Contraception is notoriously unreliable among teens. Even among women seeking abortions, who you might think would be especially motivated to avoid pregnancy, 53 per cent were using some form of contraception at the time they conceived. Passing out pills or promising abortions doesn’t deal with the underlying desires that are driving their behaviour.
Social worker Paula Crandall and Casa de Vida board member Kathleen Rossi told me that, sometimes, the Casa turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to the girls. Some of them are able to develop a sense of their own worth as persons. They get adult assistance in the ordinary problems of living, such as finishing high school, applying for jobs, looking for an apartment and so on. For some of them, the staff members at the Casa are the first adults who have taken a real interest in them, and who have the means to really help them with these basic skills. No amount of “comprehensive sex education” or “access to reproductive health” can meet these very deep-seated human needs.
If Nancy Pelosi wants to reduce the costs to taxpayers, she should be promoting marriage. Out-of-wedlock childbearing is one of the surest roads to poverty and, thereby, to taxpayer expenditure. A recent study by the Institute for American Values conservatively estimated the taxpayer costs of non-marital childbearing to be $112 billion per year, or roughly the GDP of New Zealand. Responsible, sustainable childbearing takes place within marriage. And, incidentally, if Speaker Pelosi really wants to reduce abortions (which she hinted at, but did not say) she should also be promoting marriage. Some 80 per cent of abortions, year in and year out, are performed on unmarried women.
Having babies and raising them to responsible adulthood is a significant social investment. If the family around the child breaks down or never forms in the first place, the odds of the child being raised to responsible adulthood are greatly reduced. These young girls are having babies not because their contraception has failed, not because they don’t know how to use contraception; they are having babies because they want to be loved. If Nancy Pelosi wants to save the taxpayer some money in the long run, she needs to stop investing in irresponsible sex, and start investing in responsible adult supervision and guidance of the young.
I’m not holding my breath.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute.