Family planning, the income gap, and "binders full of women"

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Can we set aside the binders full of women for a few minutes and be serious?

Because as funny as Mitt Romney’s gaffe was during Tuesday’s debate, the question of income inequality is important, and not just for women.

According to the Pew Research Center, even though women have an educational advantage over men, female full-time or salaried workers still earn somewhere around 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. That number has held fairly steady for nearly a decade.

There are a lot of theories about why the income gap persists, even as more and more women are becoming their families’ primary breadwinners. But one thing is almost certain to mess up a woman’s lifetime earning potential: unintended pregnancy.

The United States has an embarrassing rate of unintended pregnancies, and Iowa is no exception. According to the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies, nearly half the expecting Iowa women aged 18 to 30 didn’t intend to get pregnant.

Those pregnancies are a major factor in college dropout rates and poverty among women, executive director and former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson told us when she met with members of The Gazette Editorial Board this week, and we know just how to prevent them: by using long-term contraceptives, such as implants or an IUD.

The problem is those methods cost a lot up front — somewhere between $500 and $1,200. The institute just closed the books on a five-year project offering free or reduced-cost long-term reversible birth care to women through family planning clinics.

Removing the cost barrier led to skyrocketing rates of Iowa women using long-term options, Pederson said. Since 2007, the number of Iowa women using an IUD is up more than 200 percent, the group reports. Implant use is up 1,000 percent. In that same time, unintended pregnancies have fallen by 8 percent and abortions are down 24 percent, according to the group’s statistics — much greater reductions than neighboring states. The numbers are too remarkable to be coincidence.

Romney’s taken some grief for his phrasing, but he wasn’t all wrong when he said it can be a struggle to juggle office and family life. That’s especially true when children come along sooner than expected.

So if we want to close the income gap, access to affordable, effective long-term birth control has got to be part of the plan.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@

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