Popular Economics Weekly

Republicans, whether knowingly or unknowingly, not only court political disaster when they attack women’s contraception, but risk economic disaster as well, since without readily available contraception—from the pill onward—women would not have been able to contribute to economic growth as they have today and boost family incomes, when males’ head of households incomes began a steady decline in the 1970s.

This is a well-known fact, yet Republicans led by the religious extremists in their party, don’t want to realize that without women’s work outside of the family—which was severely restricted before birth control and family planning became possible in the 1970s—our economy would be in much more dire straits than it is today.

In effect, Republicans really are saying they want to take away a woman’s ability to earn her own living, necessary in this modern age with divorce so prevalent, and family incomes declining. Women constituted 47 percent of the American workforce, will remain 30 years at work, and the typical American family today is the dual-earner family, says a 2000 academic paper, entitled Professional Women, The Continuing Struggle for Acceptance and Equality. Women’s work numbers are even higher today after the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The paper’s research said employed women, regardless of marital status, reported greater happiness than the nonemployed women, and are less depressed. In fact, women who participate in multiple roles (such as mother and working professional), actually experience lower levels of stress-related mental and physical problems and feel generally better than their cohorts who engage in few roles. So women’s work also strengthens families, contrary to right wing dogma that says she must remain in the kitchen to support ‘family values’.

It wasn’t always so. Rising household incomes after WWII had helped to establish our middle class. But a combination of circumstances beginning in the 1970s, including the growing power of Big Business to weaken labor laws that took away the earning power of men, caused household incomes to begin a steady decline. In fact, incomes could no longer even keep up with inflation, as detailed in Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

The widespread availability of contraceptives and birth control in the 1970s that enabled intelligent family planning and women’s wholesale entry into the workforce, is documented with countless research, such as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz.

Wikipedia also cites women’s history from home base to workforce. “The fourth phase, known as The Quiet Revolution, began in the late 1970s and continues on today. Beginning in the 1970s women began to flood colleges and grad schools. They began to enter profession like medicine, law, dental and business. More women were going to college and expected to be employed at the age of 35, as opposed to past generations that only worked intermittently due to marriage and childbirth.”

Wikipedia continues: “The reasons for this big jump in the 1970s has been attributed by some scholars to widespread access to the birth control pill. While "the pill" was medically available in the 1960s, numerous laws restricted access to it. See, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) (overturning a Connecticut statute barring access to contraceptives) and Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) (establishing the right of unmarried people to access contraception).”

It should also be obvious that women’s health is crucial to a family’s physical (as well as economic) health. So attacks on women’s availability of contraceptives is a direct threat to the family’s health and well-being. These attacks take many forms, including forced vaginal ultrasound before an abortion is allowed in Texas, as well as nationally with the Blunt U.S. Senate amendment (that was barely defeated) that allowed employers to ban insurance coverage for contraceptives based on moral grounds—theirs, not a woman’s.

Dr. Hal C Lawrence III, as cited in the New York Times, the executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, opposed the Blunt amendment and affirmed the values of contraception, saying, “it improves and saves babies lives, improves maternal health and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.”

Senator Barbara Boxer has called it a “systematic war against women” in Senate hearings on the Blunt amendment. But it is in reality a war against women in the workplace, where women have in fact not yet achieved income equality with men.

As cited in a 2010 Center For American Progess editorial, without contraception, women cannot plan their pregnancies, and that need is more important than ever. By the end of 2009, men had lost 7 out of 10 jobs in the Great Recession. Some two million working wives had an unemployed husband, making women’s income even more critical to a family’s economic well-being.

Need we say more? The Republican’s attack on women’s contraceptive rights is therefore not only an attempt to put her back in the 1950s kitchen, but an attack on America’s overall economic health.

Harlan Green © 2012