Remarks by Douglas J. Besharov

Our topic today is "Pregnancy Prevention and Welfare Reform." Felicia Stewart, director of Reproductive Health Programs at the Kaiser Foundation, was scheduled to give this introduction. Unfortunately, a family emergency prevented her from attending today, so I will say a few remarks in her place.

Our distinguished panels will explore two different aspects of pregnancy prevention and welfare reform. First, what are states doing to prevent subsequent pregnancies and births among women already on welfare? Research indicates that women on welfare both have more children and desire more children than women not receiving assistance. For example, in 1993, Nicholas Zill of Westat, Inc., analyzed the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation and found that the mean number of children ever born to women under 45 was 2.59 among those on welfare versus 2.12 among those not receiving welfare. When he looked only at women ages 40 to 44, who have likely completed their childbearing years, the gap increased to 3.41 versus 2.38.

Dr. Zill also found that women on welfare desire larger families. His analysis of the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth found that women on welfare report that the ideal number of children is 3.0, compared to 2.7 for all other mothers and 2.5 for non-poor mothers.

A second question that will be raised today is what are states doing to prevent first pregnancies among women, particularly teenagers? This issue is relevant, because a birth to an unmarried teenager can have serious social ramifications. In addition to interfering with the completion of school and work experience, unmarried teen mothers are at great risk of welfare dependency. The Congressional Budget Office found that between 1970 and 1985, 50 percent of unmarried teen mothers went on welfare within one year of their first birth; 77 percent did so within five years. Kristin Moore of Child Trends, Inc., who spoke at our March session, has found that 59 percent of women on welfare were 19 or younger when they had their first birth.

The new welfare law, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), contains a number of provisions that aim to reduce the number of births to women on welfare and to prevent first births among those at risk. These include:

  • TANF funds can be used to support "prepregnancy" family planning;
  • States are allowed to impose family caps; and
  • Bonuses will be given to states that most decrease their "illegitimacy ratio," that is, reduce nonmarital births without increasing abortions. $20 million per year will be available to 5 states.

A number of rules relate directly to teenagers:

  • Teens must live in an adult-supervised setting;
  • Teens must be in a school or training program;
  • $50 million per year is available to states for abstinence-only education; and
  • States can require noncustodial teen parents to "fulfill community work obligations."

The extent to which states have implemented these rules varies widely. For example, less than half of the states, 22, have adopted family caps. Among those with a cap in place, the sanctions differ greatly: some states provide vouchers instead of cash to a woman who has a subsequent birth; Delaware plans to sanction first births to unmarried minors. Some states are using their abstinence grants to fund programs in schools and community centers; others are launching media campaigns.

Perhaps one of the most important issues, which may cut across all states, is the apparent uneasiness on the part of welfare administrators to address sensitive issues, such as pregnancy prevention and contraception, with their clients--and that is without dealing with the contentious issue of abortion.

Go To: June Agenda

Back to top