This article originally appeared in The Hill’s Congress Blog on June 13, 2016
By Celinda Lake
“An adventure.” “The hardest job you will ever love.” “Life changing.” All words we have heard describe what having a child is like. One word we rarely say - expensive.
But the hard truth is, having a child is incredibly expensive and a major financial decision, especially as families struggle for economic stability.
The average expenditures on a child from birth through age 17 in middle-income, husband-wife families is more than $245,000, according to the US Department of Agriculture. To say nothing of the emotional investment, it is no small choice and so it is not surprising that people take the decision about when to start a family seriously and often put great thought and planning into parenthood.
A survey of 2016 general election likely voters conducted this past April shows that families’ major economic conversations are driven by the freedom to decide and plan if and when to have children. Until policymakers and politicians acknowledge that having the freedom and ability to plan if and when to have children is directly linked to families’ economic security, they will be skipping over a major economic concern for their constituents – and what is a core economic value for many.
Results from our recent survey suggest that it is time for policy makers to sit up and take notice. Conducted online from April 15 to April 25, 2016 reaching a total of 1,000 2016 general election likely voters, voters overwhelmingly and intensely say that economic security is an important factor when planning for children and that planning for children is an important factor to financial security.
But even though 99% of sexually active, child-bearing-aged women have used contraception, Republicans in Congress and state legislatures dismiss the importance of access to reproductive care, including birth control and abortion, in effect dismissing the importance of women actively engaging in their own health care and controlling their own future, including when and if to have children.
In their denial, they are ignoring the basic economic realities that tens of millions of Americans face, forcing an agenda - like defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to women’s health care, and stripping publicly funded health programs - that runs counter to what their constituents value.
A full 70% of voters recognize that the true economic security of their families is strongly connected to women's access to equal pay, paid time off from work to care for families, affordable childcare, and affordable reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion.
Constituents feel strongly about this across political party, age, race and even regardless of how they feel about abortion. The links between economic security and planning if and when to have children are so strong among young African Americans, young Latinos, and Millennials say they are core economic values. Three-quarters of all voters (76%) believe we must ensure access to reproductive health care for all women, and (74%) agree that women having access to affordable reproductive health care is a basic economic issue for our families. By ignoring these realities, policymakers and politicians are ignoring a central issue in their constituents’ lives.
More than ever, we are aware of the intertwined relationship between access to reproductive care and major economic discussions that happen around the kitchen tables in America. And yet Republican lawmakers deny this connection and the importance of reproductive care.
Across the country, we have seen Republican governors, legislators and elected members of Congress attack access to safe legal abortion - which Gallup shows support for which has remained steady for a decade - move to strip funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and HIV tests at Planned Parenthood, and cut access to publicly funded programs for women’s reproductive care.
It’s clear that access to reproductive care is more than just a “social issue” or a “women’s issue:” it’s an economic issue, a values issue, a family issue, and a basic issue of freedom. Until Republican lawmakers accept this as fact, they will remain hopelessly out of touch with families, leaving American families to pick up the pieces. Voters have spoken, and they believe that women and their families should have the freedom to plan if and when they have children.
Celinda Lake is a leading national political strategist and President of Lake Research Partners.