"Pro-Family Planning" Republicans?

The evolution of American politics may have led to the extinction of "liberal Republicans," but traces of that extinct breed are still to be found in the GOP's gene pool. While their numbers have shrunk rather dramatically, a fair number of Republicans, particularly among the rank-and-file, still care about various "liberal" causes.

Family planning is one of those "liberal issues" that still resonates with some significant portion of the Republican electorate. Earlier this summer, Celinda Lake released a survey of "Public Support for Family Planning," which found that a strong majority of Republicans (73 percent) believe that family planning services, including birth control and contraceptives, are "important" to basic preventative health care services. Indeed, half (50 percent) of the Republicans that were surveyed regarded family planning as "very important," including 71 percent of Republican women.

This level of GOP support for family planning is sadly lacking in Congress. House Republicans are intent on slashing funding for Title X, which provides family planning services to low-income women. Earlier this year House Republicans tried, unsuccessfully, to de-fund Planned Parenthood clinics, even though they are a major provider of family planning services in the U.S. And now there is a foreign assistance appropriation bill pending in the House that would cut international family planning assistance next year by 25 percent, and eliminate all funding for the United Nations Population Fund.

Forty years ago, Republicans like Richard Nixon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller were big proponents of family planning. George Herbert Walker Bush was formerly one of the leading advocates for international family planning assistance. But somewhere along the line, family planning in Republican politics became synonymous with abortion; even though U.S. laws largely prohibit funding of abortion services at home or abroad.

Fortunately, there are some "pro-family planning" Republicans still left on the political stage who are not afraid to speak up. One of them is Michael Gerson. He's not serving in Congress, but as a former top aide to President George W. Bush, and a former political advisor to such GOP stalwarts as Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, he does have solid Republican credentials, and as a nationally recognized columnist, he does have a national audience.

Here's what he had to say in Tuesday's Washington Post after recently visiting villages in the poverty-stricken and conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): "Close up, in places such as Bweremana, family planning is undeniably pro-life. When births are spaced more than 24 months apart, both mothers and children are dramatically more likely to survive. Family planning results not only in fewer births, but in fewer at-risk births, including those early and late in a woman's fertility."

Recognizing that U.S. foreign assistance does not fund abortion services, he states flatly that, "Support for contraception does not imply or require support for abortion," and goes on say that, "... women in Congo have enough home-grown problems without importing irrelevant, Western controversies."

He concludes his column by saying, "Contraceptives do not solve every problem. But women in Bweremana want access to voluntary family planning for the same reasons as women elsewhere: to avoid high-risk pregnancies, to deliver healthy children and to better care for the children they have. And this is a pro-life cause."

That's a message that should resonate with rank-and-file Republicans. Let's hope that it's also heard and heeded by their representatives in Congress.