De-funding Planned Parenthood?
by Rachel MacNair
The concept of the U.S. federal government removing all federal taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood has been a hot legislative topic recently. It seems to be set aside for now, but is bound to come up again and again. What is there to say from a consistent-life view?
First, withdrawing money from violent institutions is generally a good first step. Planned Parenthood is by far the largest chain of abortion clinics in the U.S., responsible for the direct committing of a large portion of feticides. It’s a major lobbyist in abortion political advocacy in many countries around the world. Whether or not they have illegally sold baby parts is a legal technicality, but that they are responsible for massive violence is clear. Taxpayers feeling revolted about having their money going to Planned Parenthood would, to our minds, be equivalent to taxpayers not wanting their money to go to nuclear weapons and imperial-oriented military expenditures, or to executions.
However, the federal money going to Planned Parenthood doesn’t directly fund abortions – there’s a strict legal prohibition on that – but to other services women of low income need. Much of these are Medicaid payments for perfectly legitimate services. So two objections arise to the above reasoning.
Objection #1: The idea that Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than it causes because it provides contraception that prevents pregnancies.
In answer, I’m not discussing individual cases, where well-used contraception prevents abortions because the pregnancies never happened. Rather, I focus on what Planned Parenthood’s activity does.
We have a real-world test of this from the Texas panhandle, where Planned Parenthood facilities operated on a large scale. In 1999, five of its facilities closed; in 2001, seven more. Four more shut down later, so by 2008, none remained in the Texas Panhandle. Statistics on the teenage pregnancy rate in those counties show pregnancy rates among those aged 13-17 dropped dramatically. The average rate in the 16 counties started at 43.7 per 1,000 in 1996. By 2002, it was 28.6; by 2010, it had dropped to 24.1.
This isn’t what was predicted by those who admire Planned Parenthood’s work, but the explanation is in the academic literature: it’s called “risk compensation” or “behavioral adaptation.” It’s explained in an article relating condom use to, of all things, seat belts.
Seat belt laws succeeded in several countries in getting more people to wear seat belts – but without impacting the statistics on car injuries and fatalities. If someone who scrupulously follows the speed limit without a seat belt keeps do so after wearing one, then they’re safer. If that person feels because of the seat belt it’s now ok to go much faster, they could make up for the seat belt as far as injuries and fatalities are concerned. Authors of this paper suggest the same thing with condom use –efforts at pregnancy prevention could be “undermined by unintended changes in sexual risk perception and behavior.”
So while careful drivers with seat belts and careful couples with contraception can benefit, the impact of the programs Planned Parenthood offers for pregnancy prevention do not appear to be sufficiently accompanied by carefulness. Better approaches to pregnancy prevention are needed. Reality is more complicated.
Objection #2: Women in poverty need the non-abortion medical services that Planned Parenthood provides, and we shouldn’t to anything to deny them that.
Despite things they’ve said about mammograms, PP owns no mammogram machines and “provides the service” by referring women to other places. For contraception, pap smears, STD testing, and other much-needed services, CL member group Democrats for Life points out that there are thousands of community health centers that provide these, and a common point in advocating the de-funding of Planned Parenthood is that the money would go to those instead.
This is a fine argument in most places. The problem is, what about those pockets where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of these services available within a reasonable distance?
But this goes beyond the question of de-funding. Whenever there are such pockets, it’s telling those women in poverty they have no choice but to go to an organization that is startlingly callous about the lives of their prenatal children. Women should have the right to quality care, and quality care is best provided by people who are sensitive to all of human life and don’t make excuses for its destruction.
One grassroots approach is to first get definite information on where all those pockets are, and then work with city or state legislatures to make alternatives available. So all women, no matter how poor or how isolated, have the ability to get quality care from community health centers rather than from an abortion advocacy organization.
This service to women in poverty is worthy in and of itself, empowering women who wish to have the alternative. But it also will undermine the argument that women need Planned Parenthood. The organization would become much more clearly redundant and unnecessary for legitimate health care.
This groundwork could make the federal legislation more likely to pass eventually. And it would be a worthwhile project even if the de-funding legislation never passes. Planned Parenthood could be weakened as a matter of noncooperation by the people who can now go elsewhere.
Another strategy is that those who have a goal of de-funding Planned Parenthood could get legislators to offer to double or triple the funds going to the community health centers specifically for women’s health, on the condition that none of the money goes to abortion-providing organizations.
Then the people insisting that money must go specifically to Planned Parenthood would be the ones whose actions were working to cut the funds for women’s health care as a whole.
For more of our blog posts on nonviolent campaigns about Planned Parenthood, see:
For the campaign itself — Grassroots Defunding: Finding Alternatives to Planned Parenthood, see: