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Some female lawmakers forget their disservice to Alaska women

Barbara McDaniel
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

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 Alaska 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 SB 49. Rep. Lindsey Holmes 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 socio-economic 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 report adds, “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 SB 49 and the contraception amendment, Rep. Gabrielle LaDoux 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, so can do more, and evidently need to do more, because 51 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.

Women and mothers of childbearing age who live on low incomes have difficulty affording and obtaining reliable contraceptives. Sen. Berta Gardner stated in an Alaska Senate floor debate on SB 49 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. Sen. 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 childbearing 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, Reps. Mia Costello, Lynn Gattis, Shelley Hughes, Charisse Millett, Lora Reinbold, Peggy Wilson and Tammie Wilson along with Sens. Lesil McGuire, Anna Fairclough and Cathy Giessel cast cold-hearted votes against the best interests of Alaska’s children who struggle to survive in low-income households.

Barbara McDaniel is a lifelong Alaska resident and president of the Alaska chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com