S. 270: Pregnant Women Support Act (“A bill to provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.”)
S. 21: Prevention First Act (“A bill to reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women's health care.”)
Both of these bills have been proposed in several previous sessions of Congress and died in committee.
Here’s my crude summary of the differences:
S. 270’s programs that “reduce the need for abortion” are those that make having an unplanned baby less daunting. These include support for young mothers still in school; a requirement that insurance companies not treat pregnancy as a “preexisting condition” (so that pregnant women w/no insurance can go and sign up for insurance to help with the medical costs); increasing food stamps / WIC, etc. These programs are mostly directed toward convincing women who find themselves pregnant not to have an abortion.
S. 21 focuses on preventing unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place, emphasizing contraception availability and education. Programs include requiring hospitals to make emergency contraception available; increasing “family planning services” covered by Medicaid, and making grants available to states from comprehensive sex ed (as opposed to abstinence-only sex ed).
My take on it:
Both of these bills would help reduce abortions. S. 21 would help reduce the number of women who have unintended pregnancies*, and S. 270 would help reduce the number of those women finding themselves pregnant who choose to have an abortion**. They would complement each other nicely.
So why have both these bills have stalled in committee over and over?
Because each “side” thinks their solution is the most important one and won’t vote for “the other side’s” bill, since it doesn’t include their solution. (I mean, obviously it’s a little more complicated than that, but given that it’s so relevant that we talk about every election, it seems like Congress should be able to produce something…)
So… why don’t they roll all these programs into one big bill?
I’m no lawyer. I have no idea how lawmaking works. But I think that if lawmakers decided to unite on some middle ground – to practice some of that bipartisanship that they’re always talking about – they could probably get a bill passed that involves the best of both worlds, preventing abortion at 2 different levels.
Anyway, that’s what I’m praying for.
* As someone raised in California public schools, I’m sure my opinion is pretty biased, but I think it’s clear that abstinence-only sex ed does not work. I also think (and my current students confirm) that our comprehensive sex ed still had a pretty strong “sex is serious, so abstinence is important” message. Plus, I think information about contraceptives is important even for those who choose to abstain until marriage, since maybe they don’t want to have a baby first thing into their marriage. I do have an issue with emergency contraception, but I’m pretty sure that’s outweighed by the rest of the bill (it’s not like we can even begin to talk about the morality of emergency contraception if we don’t even teach girls what contraception is!).
** My experience in working in urban high schools is that the unexpectedly pregnant girls who decide to carry their pregnancies to term are often girls with strong support nets – family who can help care for the baby, women who were teen mothers themselves who don’t judge these girls – and in explaining their decision to keep the baby, they refer to government programs they’ve learned about that are going to help them out.
- The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot writes about different rates of teen pregnancy and abortion in red + blue states in Red Sex, Blue Sex.
- The US Conference of Catholic bishops issued a statement in support of S. 270.
- Newsweek's Lisa Miller shares some insight about the divisive use of language in abortion politics/legislation.