With only 18 months remaining until we inaugurate a new president, the political campaigns are raging like mid-December shoppers. And as the national candidates work overtime to clarify, reverse, or in some cases multiply their positions on abortion rights, important lessons can be learned from a bipartisan consensus forged right here in California.

While the debate rages elsewhere, the long sought “middle ground” on abortion has been the mainstay of California law for over a decade. Beginning with the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, San Diego’s former mayor, new programs were created which focused on prevention and accessibility as the keys to empowering young people to plan for their families, thereby reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections, reducing the number of abortions, and saving taxpayers billions in social service and welfare costs associated with unplanned pregnancies.

These family planning programs have been expanded and strengthened by governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, creating model public policies that have yielded stunning success. According to the state Department of Health Services, California’s approach has reduced the teen birth rate by nearly 50 percent in just 10 years.

The UCSF Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy found that California now provides expanded access to contraception, sexuality education and reproductive health services for over one million low-income women and men. These services have helped prevent over 200,000 unintended pregnancies and saved more than $2 billion dollars in medical, social, and educational expenditures from the state and federal budgets.

What our last three governors (two Republicans and one Democrat) have proven is that for every dollar spent on family planning programs, we save $3 in health care costs and far more in social services. Providing medically accurate information, access to free or affordable contraception, and teaching comprehensive sexuality education in our schools have also significantly increased the number of women going to college and entering the workforce.

Family planning programs are already supported by the vast majority of Americans, and their effectiveness has been proven right here in California. The only question is whether our political candidates will become mired in the debate over personal beliefs, or unite around public policies which are proven to be effective.


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