In a recent commentary released to Alaska media about oil taxes, 11 female Alaska state legislators claimed their bona fides as champions of the “best interests” of Alaskan children.
However, 10 of those 11 women have apparently forgotten the harmful votes they cast this past spring that stripped an amendment to increase funding for contraceptives for low-income women and mothers from Senate Bill 49. Rep. Lindsey Holmes, R-Anchorage, was the only one of the 11 who truly demonstrated decision making in the best interests of children that day by voting in support of the contraceptive funding and against the bill.
Apparently, “as women,” the 10 legislators don’t know or don’t care about the seriously negative impact of poverty and related family size on a child’s socioeconomic outcomes. Family size critically impacts the well-being of children born to low-income mothers. The Guttmacher Institute reports survey findings where “65 percent of women reported that, over the course of their lives, access to contraception had enabled them to take better care of themselves or their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, or get or keep a job.
“The most common reason women gave (for seeking contraceptives) was not being able to afford to care for a baby at that time (and) among women with children, nearly all cited their need to care for their current children as a reason for practicing contraception.”
The Urban Institute reports that “being poor at birth is a strong predictor of future poverty status. ... Children who are born into poverty and spend multiple years living in poor families have worse adult outcomes than their counterparts in higher-income families.”
Before the final house floor vote on SB49 and the contraception amendment, Rep. Gabrielle LaDoux, R-Anchorage, joked, “Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean, we’ve done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services.”
Her statement is not funny or true. Poverty is a serious issue and legislators control a lot of money. They can do more, and evidently need to do more since 51 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended (Guttmacher Institute report).
Women and mothers of childbearing age who live on low incomes have difficulty affording and obtaining reliable contraceptives. Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said during an SB49 floor debate that the most reliable contraceptives “do require a physician’s prescription, often accompanied by an examination or at least access to a clinic.” That costs low-income women and mothers money they don’t have. Gardner indicated in a follow-up Anchorage Daily News article that she is “convinced not all women can afford birth control, or even pay for a bus ride across town to get to a clinic.”
Clearly, affordable and accessible contraceptives are essential to all wives, mothers, girls and women of child-bearing age in the best interests of children. Such preventive health care allows girls and women to develop their education and careers; plan the number of children they can realistically, competently, and independently afford; and reduce the need for last-resort abortions.
It is a callous, egregious act for any lawmaker to support and pass laws that would increase the already overwhelming burdens Alaska’s low-income mothers and their children carry through every aspect of their daily lives. The truth is, while hidden from most Alaskans’ view down in Juneau last spring, these 10 female lawmakers cast cold-hearted votes against the best interests of Alaska’s children who struggle to survive in low-income households.
• Barbara McDaniel is president of Alaska NOW.