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Politics of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 to provide birth control and reproductive health services. Today, it consists of more than 800 health centers around the country serving more than five million clients annually. Their services include contraception, cancer screenings, pregnancy testing, STD testing, sex education, and (yes) abortion. Remarkably, this organization was nearly the sole reason behind a shutdown of the federal government this month. Why? Now that is a good story.

Planned Parenthood first began receiving federal funding in 1970 under Richard Nixon (with bipartisan support) through the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act. As a result, this year Planned Parenthood will receive more than $300 million in federal assistance accounting for nearly a third of their total budget. In the latest budget craze, the GOP controlled House of Representatives pushed to cut this funding both in the name of slashing $100 billion from the 2011 budget and eliminating federal funds from supporting abortion services.

The problem is that no federal money goes to fund abortions already, as dictated by the Hyde amendment since 1976. Planned Parenthood has also affirmed that none of the federal dollars they receive have been used for abortions. So what is the problem? It turns out that conservatives like Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) claim that these federal dollars “free up” money for the organization that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to use on abortion.

This seems to be an interesting approach, to boycott an entire organization receiving funding because it offers a legal medical procedure with which you disagree. Perhaps we should restrict all federal dollars from states that execute criminals since some people disagree with the death penalty? Or, perhaps we should eliminate tax benefits or deductions for women who have had or plan to have an abortion? That tax benefit might “free up” money for her to go pay for that abortion.

The fact is that Planned Parenthood does perform thousands of abortions which are privately funded, even though they constitute around 3% of their total services. The remaining services are preventative and essential health services for women. Reducing funding for Planned Parenthood would merely reduce the organization’s ability to perform the other 97% of services including cancer screenings, pregnancy counseling, and contraception. Some say this reduction could even inadvertently lead to more unwanted pregnancies and, in some cases, more abortions.

If the overall goal is to combat illegitimate practices by Planned Parenthood then why have we not heard what they are? If the overall goal is to reduce the number of abortions then how would that happen given the independence of funding? If the overall goal is fiscal discipline then why were there increases to defense spending and even millions in school vouchers for Washington D.C. (that the city didn’t want) inserted in the budget compromise? It seems to me that the goal has to be either irrationally constructed or secretively revolve around a fundamental opposition to family planning in general.

Attacking Planned Parenthood has accomplished nothing toward any of the above mentioned potential goals – all of which could have merit. Further, private donations have skyrocketed since this perceived attack on women’s health, and abortions will continue to occur with privately funded dollars. This whole episode nearly shut down the federal government with, in the end, nothing of substance to show for it. Planned Parenthood remains a trusted organization by millions of Americans who support it and believe federal dollars provide access to valuable services for some women might not be able to afford.

Congratulations GOP for wasting our time, confusing a lot of Americans, and threatening to shut down the government over seemingly nothing.

[Note, I’ve mentioned nothing here about the complex moral question of abortion. The point is that abortion is legal, no federal funds are used for abortion, and this political circus operated independent of this moral conversation.]

Categories: Politics
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