(AP/Charlie Riedel)

The “war on women” is a fiscal nightmare: Taxpayers on the hook for millions as Republicans gut family planning

School buses in Kansas are being rerouted from decaying bridges while anti-choice policies eat up tax dollars


Katie McDonough
February 10, 2015 10:28PM (UTC)

Kansas has paid attorneys nearly $1.2 million to defend the flood of abortion restrictions the state has passed since 2011. As the Associated Press reported Tuesday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced that the state paid a Lawrence-based firm nearly $800,000 in expenses related to multiple lawsuits, and had spent more than $400,000 on a Witchita firm defending a measure that cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Serving as the backdrop to the news is the state’s budget crisis, a $344 million hole driven by income tax cuts that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law in 2012. In response, pensions are being slashed, infrastructure is suffering and Brownback has proposed cutting spending on public schools and state universities by $45 million. Even Brownback’s fellow Republicans are telling him to stop living in “fantasyland” and call off his anti-tax experiment.

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One would think, given the dire straits the state finds itself in, a pause from the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s assault on reproductive rights to avoid future lawsuits and an investment in family planning with documented cost benefits (and public health benefits, but that really goes without saying) would be one way to staunch the fiscal bleeding. But anti-choice lawmakers show no signs of slowing, and are still defending restrictions in court and currently considering a measure that could ban more than 90 percent of second trimester abortions. (Brownback has already signaled his support for such a bill.)

And more than just being expensive to defend, sweeping abortion restrictions that target public funding for family planning and affordable, reliable access to abortion and contraception cost the state millions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the services provided at publicly funded family planning health centers in 2010 in Kansas helped save the state $81,303,000 in public funds. “That accounts for savings from reduced maternity and birth-related costs, along with reduced costs related to miscarriage and abortion and savings related to [sexually transmitted infection] screening and cervical cancer prevention services,” according to the report.

This isn’t isolated to Kansas. South Dakota’s attorney general predicted last year that state restrictions on abortion could leave taxpayers on the hook for anywhere between $1.75 million to $4 million. Idaho has spent $1 million defending similar laws over the last decade, and North Dakota set aside a war chest of nearly half a million dollars to defend a glaringly unconstitutional six-week abortion ban that was promptly struck down in court. In Texas, the state's health commission estimated cuts to family planning resulted in nearly 24,000 unplanned births last year, at a cost of $273 million.

And according to a 2014 analysis from Guttmacher, for every public dollar invested in family planning, taxpayers save $7. Such an investment also means that unintended pregnancies go down and healthy pregnancies go up, along with a host of other public health benefits. “Public expenditures for the US family planning program not only prevented unintended pregnancies but also reduced the incidence and impact of preterm and [low birth weight] births, STIs, infertility, and cervical cancer,” according to the report. “This investment saved the government billions of public dollars, equivalent to an estimated taxpayer savings of $7.09 for every public dollar spent.”

Banning or otherwise restricting access to abortion is expensive; so is depriving people of affordable access to contraceptives. Kansas is currently doing both, while Brownback calls himself a fiscal conservative. Meanwhile in Topeka, school buses are being rerouted over concerns that a 60-year-old bridge can’t handle the weight and spending for roads and infrastructure is on the chopping block.

The situation has shocked some of the state's most conservative lawmakers, according to the Associated Press. "When I send out surveys and say, 'What are the roles of government?' — and this is not just my district — roads are generally at the top of the list," said Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican who is considered one of the Legislature's most conservative members.

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Want to know if Knox supports reproductive rights? I'll give you one guess.


Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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