Economics, Reproductive Health and the Integrity of the Family

Headed the Way of Greece

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By Arland Nichols and Donald DeMarco

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 28, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The term “economic” is derived from the Greek oikonomia, pertaining to the management of the household. In this sense, the term has considerable breadth inasmuch as it deals not only with finances, but all the human complexities involved in managing and caring for all the members of the family.

Today’s economist is, in general, not particularly concerned with the family. He is not interested in those realities that are beyond the reach of data. At a macro level an economy is said to be “healthy” when GDP, interest rates, and unemployment stabilize at acceptable levels. In our modern use of the term, it is possible to have a healthy economy in a sick society. Thus, a “healthy” economy at the macro level can coexist with the use of contraception or abortion by families seeking to avoid another mouth to feed. 

The modern economist who restricts his professional interest to financial data displays a much narrower view of economics than has been characteristic of the Christian tradition. As Pope Pius IX stated in Quadragesimo Anno, “Economic life must be inspired by Christian principles.” This includes the reproductive realm. In writing Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI was guided by an ever-present concern for a “integral vision of man.” In section 7 of the encyclical, Paul VI writes:

The problem of birth, like every other problem regarding human life, is to be considered…in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation.

From this perspective, Pope Paul accurately predicted what would happen if the use of contraception became widespread. He warned of a general lowering of moral standards throughout society, an increase in marital infidelity, a lessening of respect for women by men, and the coercive use of contraceptive technologies by governments. 

Leaving aside the obvious connection between this fourth prediction and the current “contraceptive mandate” in the United States, Paul VI could not possibly have predicted the radical impact “reproductive health” initiatives would have in changing the demographic and economic landscape through the world. For years the world has wrung its collective hands at the disastrous economic situation in Greece. Few know, however, that Greece is also demographically insolvent. Fertilityrates in this country have dropped from 2.2 children per couple in the 1980s to less than 1 child today. As Mark Steyn recently characterized the problem: “In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren – i.e., an upside-down family tree…if 100 geezers run up a bazillion dollars worth of debt, is it likely that 42 youngsters will ever be able to pay it off?” No amount of aid, restructuring of debt or infusion of financial capital can offer a long-term solution to the situation in Greece. Only human capital can remedy—perhaps “could have remedied” would be more accurate—the impending collapse. A vibrant economy is only possible through an “integral vision” of economy as oikonomia. In other words, Greece must address the family and demographic collapse if its financial crisis is to be ameliorated.   

Another country with looming debt problems seems insistent on pursuing a similar course as Greece: According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the United States the economy is projected to shut down in 2027 as the nation will be unable to meet its trillions of dollars in debt obligations. By the middle of the 21st century the CBO notes that interest payments on the debt will exceed federal revenues. The specter of collapse looms large. 

Clearly guided by a truncated anthropology and economic vision, political leaders in the United States have chosen to throw gas on this proverbial fire. Though the United States already gives birth to children at a rate (1.9) below replacement level (2.1), prominent political figures have decided that the solution to economic woes is more “reproductive health” i.e., more abortion and contraception. Nancy Pelosi gave voice to this approach when justifying the “economic stimulus plan” of 2008 that included hundreds of millions of dollars toward provision of contraception to the poor. 

In an interview with George Stephanopolis, Pelosi argued: “Well the family planning services reduce costs, it reduced [sic] costs. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crisis now.” Categorizing “family planning,” provision of children’s health, education, food stamps, and unemployment insurance together, Pelosi noted that these initiatives “are to help the states meet their financial needs…the contraception will reduce costs to the State and to the federal government too. No apologies, no…We have to deal with the consequences of the down turn in our economy…there is more bang for the buck [with such initiatives].” To put it simply, poor children cost the government money, and since we have the goal of saving money, we need the poor to have less children.

Contraception as economic stimulus was eventually removed from the economic stimulus that would pass in the United States Congress, but the prevailing economic and sexual ideology expressed by Pelosi has continued to hold sway in the debates concerning the economically strained health care industry. This ideology was apparent in the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs should be part of free “preventive health care” for all women. 

Their mandate explicitly forbade the use of costs as a justification for a recommendation. “Cost was explicitly excluded as a factor that the committee could use in forming recommendations, the committee process could not evaluate preventive services on the basis of cost.” It is of no little coincidence that the committee went on to argue the following to justify “free” provision of all sterilization and contraception: “contraception is highly cost-effective. The direct medical cost of unintended pregnancy in the United States was estimated to be nearly $5 billion in 2002, with the cost savings due to contraceptive use estimated to be 19.3 billion.” In other words, on a macro-level, children are an economic liability and the government has a vested interest in ensuring that on a micro level women (especially poor women) use contraception.     

Continuing in this vein, the argument that the HHS mandate is justified by economic benefits has been repeated on a number of occasions. President Obama noted it in his announcement of his “accommodation” that was anything but, and Kathleen Sebelius has asserted that “the reduction in the number of pregnancies is [sic] compensates for the cost of contraception.”

As we have seen in countries facing demographic collapse, preventing more births does not, in fact, buoy an economy. Aside from what has already been noted, contraception adds further strains on a country and the health care system in particular. Allow us to note just a few examples: 

Out of wedlock pregnancies and divorce rates in the United States are positively correlated to the increased use of contraception and availability of abortion. Yet we continue to hear the tired refrain that contraception brings about “stronger marriages.”

Further, the negative side effects of combined oral contraceptives creates a host of unnecessary costs. These negative effects include increased risk of breast, cervical and liver cancer, stroke, heart attack, and blood clots. As noted in a recent “LifeWatch” column, it is estimated that in one year 50,000 women experience blood clots because of the use of combined oral contraceptives. That’s one year alone and only one health issue! And aside from the obvious human cost, the economic toll is clearly staggering. 

Consider also numerous studies that indicate that contraceptives are correlated with the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, such as the study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases thatindicated that women who use contraception and men whose partners use it were twice as likely to contract HIV/AIDS than non-users. 

The destructive impact that contraception has on marriages, the family and the health of women is well documented—if not well known. 

The ideology of certain members of the media and politicians has prevailed where it pertains to the importance of children for society, the economy, and families. Children are viewed as a liability to a thriving economy or robust family life, and contraception presented as the remedy. This is both misleading and dangerous. To strengthen the integrity of the family and economy we would do well to hold an integral vision of economics as oikonomia. The modern economist may not be expected to share this broad vision, but he is surely under no obligation to oppose it. Contraception is hardly a panacea. On the contrary, a culture of contraception carries a significant array of problems that warrant attention. Most fundamentally, however, we must cease to view children as an economic liability. Unless we relish the prospect of going the way of Greece and other EU nations reaping contraception’s demographic desserts, we must recognize children as the most precious good of the family and greatest treasure of a healthy economy.

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Arland K. Nichols is the National Director of HLI America, an initiative of Human Life International. Donald DeMarco, PhD is a Senior Fellow of HLI America, and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Some of their recent writings may be found at HLI America's Truth and Charity Forum.