In Defense of Planned Parenthood

So, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and Congressional Republicans have introduced their replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that there will be an additional 14 million uninsured people beginning in 2018. That number will swell to 21 million by 2020, which should make for an interesting healthcare debate in the next presidential election cycle because additional millions of people who aren’t covered by health insurance isn’t a “terrific” replacement for the Affordable Care Act, as President Trump promised.

Aside from the politically dubious issue of cutting so many people loose from the roles of the insured — admittedly, some by choice — and the likelihood that many older Americans will have to pay more for their insurance, I have another major problem with the so-called “American Healthcare Act.” Now, whether the bill, as proposed, will make it through the Senate is questionable, and part of the reason relates to my other problem with the bill. It proposes to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

A Brief Review of Recent Attacks on Planned Parenthood

I’ve always been at least passively pro-choice, even when I was a member of a very conservative Baptist congregation. Back then, I just didn’t talk about it because there was no productive discussion to be had with anyone there. I didn’t really pay attention to Planned Parenthood until the summer of 2015 when the “Center for Medical Progress” released some heavily doctored videos showing negotiations with Planned Parenthood employees over the transfer of aborted fetal tissue for research. After a number of investigations, Planned Parenthood was found to have done nothing wrong. Indeed, a Texas grand jury chose to indict two people from the Center for Medical Progress rather on fraud charges than anyone from Planned Parenthood.

Although I was pretty shocked that anyone would try to fabricate evidence to bring down an organization that, as I’ve learned, does a very important public health service, I’ve also learned that it’s par for the course for Planned Parenthood. Just in the last few months, another “pro-life” organization put together a video of phone calls they made to a bunch of Planned Parenthood health centers asking about prenatal care. Most of the time, there were no prenatal care services offered at the health center.

While there are many things in the video that don’t represent Planned Parenthood very well, the truth is that they have never said that they offer prenatal care at all their health centers. You can look at the Planned Parenthood website and see what services are offered at each location. It’s relatively simple. Indeed, I looked, and I found out something else about their health centers. They don’t offer abortions services at all of them.

The video has been shared on various conservative websites and on social media. People who are against Planned Parenthood are certainly outraged. That’s what they do. They get outraged. They complain that the health centers don’t offer mammograms or other specialized care, but I can probably safely say that no primary care or OB/GYN practice offers mammograms. The attacks are kind of silly. Their problem with Planned Parenthood is that they provide abortion services, a legal medical service.

But should we, as a society, should we decide how a woman should deal with an unintended pregnancy? Should our government?

The Issue of Abortion, Itself

As a man, I will never have to make the decision to get an abortion, and I admit it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and decide what someone else should or shouldn’t do. People do it all the time. We say what our political leaders should do, what our sports teams should do, and what fictional characters should do. But should we, as a society, should we decide how a woman should deal with an unintended pregnancy? Should our government?

I don’t think so. You may not agree with me, and you don’t have to. The Supreme Court has decided — and affirmed — that a woman has a Constitutional right to decide to have an abortion. Abortions are legal. That should be enough. You may think that abortions should be against the law, but that won’t end abortions. The abortion wasn’t invented after the Roe v Wade decision. Countless women lost their lives trying to terminate unintended pregnancies. Legal abortions are safe. Lives are saved.

Restricting access to abortion services won’t end abortions. It will just put more women’s lives in danger. Indeed, the abortion rates in countries where they are illegal are greater than the rates in countries where they are legal. The difference is that in countries where it is illegal thousands of women die, and millions of women have dangerous complications from a procedure that is incredibly safe in countries like the United States.

Some women choose, out of sheer desperation, to throw themselves down flights of stairs to try to induce a miscarriage. Some take herbs or drugs in hopes of doing the same. Some use coat hangers or whatever they can get their hands on just to terminate that pregnancy. Out of sheer desperation. And many, unnecessarily die.

I sit here, and I pause. I simply can’t imagine that desperation, that desire to put oneself in such danger while still wanting to live.

Preventing Abortions

I don’t think anyone loves the idea of abortions. It’s probably safe to say that people who are pro-life would settle for preventing abortions. That’s why so many red states have tried to put laws in place to limit access to them. From trying to force health centers to meet medically unnecessary standards to trying to force women to have funerals for the fetus after their abortions, they keep trying to put laws in place to make it more difficult to access abortion services.

Do those laws work? That’s debatable. Women can still go to other states for an abortion. And in the unlikely event that Roe v Wade is overturned, would abortions be completely prevented? More unintended pregnancies would probably be carried to full term, but unsafe, illegal abortions would also probably increase. Desperation is powerful. A young woman who may not be financially or emotionally ready for motherhood could be tempted to take a risk, as could a middle-aged woman who already has grown children, or a young mother who already has more than she can handle.

Why are we even discussing their funding when they provide such a vital public health service?

A law won’t be as powerful as that desperation. We know, fully well, that a law against abortions fails repeatedly to prevent abortions. That law only puts women in more danger.

But there is a great way to prevent abortions, and Planned Parenthood is great at it. Access to birth control and quality sex education helps women prevent the unintended pregnancies that may end in abortions. Planned Parenthood provides both. Why are we even discussing their funding when they provide such a vital public health service? I know the opposition may like to talk about abstinence only sex education programs, but those simply do not work to prevent unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Let’s be honest. People are going to have sex. I know its primary evolutionary purpose is procreation, but — as I understand it — sex probably happens much more often just for fun. Younger people are going to do it. We can simply tell them not to do it and let them unintentionally procreate or contract serious, even life-threatening infections. Or, we can give them good, clear information on how to protect themselves and teach them about preventing unintended pregnancies and about setting healthy boundaries. It seems so simple to me. Education and access work, and the abortion rate in the United States is dropping. Why risk that success?

“Defunding” Planned Parenthood

But anyway, the opposition persists in wanting to “defund” Planned Parenthood. I use quotation marks for a reason. Planned Parenthood isn’t really “funded” by the federal government. There’s no budget item for them. They receive reimbursement for services provided for patients who have insurance through Medicaid and Medicare, along with some Title X funding for family planning services.

No federal money can be used to provide abortion services — with narrow exceptions for the health of the woman or instances of rape or incest — and none is. Again, the funds received by Planned Parenthood are reimbursement for covered services. One may make an argument about the fungibility of the funds received, but that really doesn’t stand up. Planned Parenthood receives federal money for medical services provided, and then, it’s not federal money anymore. It’s Planned Parenthood’s.

We can also be 100% sure that the birth control and education provided by Planned Parenthood helps prevent them.

But if you really want to get into the weeds, it’s pretty simple to keep federal money away from abortion services. I do it with my personal finances. I have one checking account that I use to pay my regular bills, and I have another that I use for regular spending. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to put money from different sources into different accounts and then use those funds for different purposes.

Everyone can be 100% sure that Medicaid funds aren’t going to abortions. We can also be 100% sure that the birth control and education provided by Planned Parenthood helps prevent them. The healthcare bill introduced by Republicans, if passed as is, will mean that patients of Planned Parenthood who use Medicaid won’t be able to use their insurance at a Planned Parenthood health center anymore. They won’t be able to use the healthcare provider of their choice, and they’ll be left to find a new provider in areas that are already overburdened.

Finding a new healthcare provider that’s accepting new patients can be difficult, even more difficult for someone who may not have the means to travel farther to find such a provider. Many people will be without care in the interim. They won’t have access to the care that they need. They will, ironically enough, still have access to abortion services at their nearby Planned Parenthood health center in the event of an unintended pregnancy, a pregnancy that will be more likely to happen if women don’t have access to covered birth control methods.

It’s Time for Honesty

Let’s admit it. An abortion is a failure. It could be a failure of a birth control method — even vasectomies and tubal ligations can fail. They could be a failure of information and education. But mostly, they’re a failure of preparation and prevention. People are going to have sex. Expecting otherwise is foolish. Our healthcare system should help people prevent pregnancies. Would taxpayers prefer that Medicaid covers a woman’s IUD and ensure that she has access to one, or would they want to add a child to her Medicaid coverage? Birth control and sex education work to prevent unintended pregnancies. Why are people trying to prevent Planned Parenthood from helping women do just that?

I just don’t understand.

Planned Parenthood provides abortion services, and they also help prevent countless unintended pregnancies, and therefore, abortions, as well. Let’s accept that and move forward.

stand with Planned Parenthood.


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