Noncooperation with Planned Parenthood
by Rachel MacNair
As nonviolence advocates, when we take on abortion as one of our issues we naturally want to apply the knowledge about effective nonviolent action to countering abortion practice.
A major part of the theory of why nonviolence works is that any kind of power relies on other people cooperating. From independence movements to civil rights movements and toppling dictatorships, noncooperation is key.
An appropriate focus for such noncooperation is the organization that both runs the largest chain of abortion clinics in the world and is also a major advocate for public policy and social acceptability of abortion internationally: Planned Parenthood (PP).
For making the case about PP, see our previous blog post, and an excellent resource by our member group Secular Pro-life called Fund Women’s Health. This second one also offers links for donations to alternative women’s health outlets that help low-income women without being involved in abortion. These alternatives are crucial to a noncooperation campaign, as I’ll explain more below. But first, I’ll cover the simplest form of noncooperation: boycotts.
Boycotts – named for 19th-century Irish landlord Charles Boycott – means a large group of people agreeing not to buy specific products or otherwise deal with specific targets. What has been the history of using boycotts on the abortion issue?
We at the Consistent Life Network had the idea a while back of doing a petition drive targeting a couple of peace-and-justice-oriented companies. The petition would encourage them to consider the consistent life ethic and stop donating to PP. It didn’t take long to realize what was wrong with this idea: it would be child’s play for PP supporters to offer a counter-petition demanding the companies keep giving PP grants, and they would likely get an avalanche of signatures.
But this works both ways when there are huge numbers of sympathizers on polarized sides. An example was that decades ago abortion defenders were upset at legislation passed in the state of Idaho and threatened a boycott on Idaho potatoes. Pro-life groups immediately said they would splurge on potatoes if that happened. After all, if you buy a bag of potatoes to give to your local soup kitchen, your charity dollar does double duty – and you didn’t even spend very much.
So a boycott on one side will be met by a spending spree on the other, as long as the proposed product to boycott allows for that. A boycott of products associated with foundations who grant money to PP will only work if it’s not a product that abortion defenders can splurge on.
For decades now, the US federal government’s funding of International Planned Parenthood goes back and forth by executive order depending on whether the US president is Democratic or Republican.
In contrast, deciding whether US government money goes to PP within the United States is a question being argued in the US Congress and state legislatures. The main source of taxpayer revenue is Medicaid payments that cover individuals using PP services. Courts have ruled that states can’t dictate which medically-qualified facility Medicaid recipients use. Another source is Title X – Family Planning money, given as grants.
It’s long been established law that taxpayer money to PP doesn’t generally go directly to abortions. The argument is over whether public funds should cover services other than abortion that PP provides. PP mixes genuine health care with stomach-churning violence, as well as advocacy for such violence. So from the perspective of those of us accustomed to nonviolent movements to counter violence, noncooperation is required.
When dealing with medical services unrelated to abortion, community health centers in the U.S. are an already-existing institutional nonviolent alternative to PP clinics.
In many places, they’re fairly near PP clinics. Efforts to persuade women to use the community centers instead of PP promote noncooperation with PP. Successfully persuading women to go elsewhere for services they need depends on many factors, but when going to providers other than PP is easy to do, that makes persuasion far more effective.
However, in other places, there’s no community health center nearby. Therefore, to establish noncooperation with PP, we need to lobby state legislatures to establish such centers. If that’s a bit too much of a project to take on, we can try to persuade those people who lobby for pro-life causes already, in states where the legislatures are inclined toward PP defunding, that establishing alternative centers is worthy for them to do.
In yet other places, those centers do exist, but they’re stretched and wouldn’t be able to handle the extra patient load if PP weren’t doing the care. In that case, we can lobby for more resources for those centers.
Also, sometimes PP is the only place in the vicinity that accepts Medicaid. Working on getting others in the vicinity to also accept Medicaid is another possible action.
Homework for US activists: You can locate the Planned Parenthood facilities in your state. Then see which community health centers are near them. If no community health centers are near PP centers, then do some more homework on how to establish such a center. If community health centers are located near a PP center, check out if those centers require more resources to handle more patients.
The idea that PP is necessary to get health care and family planning to low-income women is one of the major arguments against defunding. But health care can be offered in alternative ways. Therefore, this is a necessary step to the policy goal of government de-funding
But beyond that, ensuring women have an alternative to PP as far as receiving health care may prove an effective means of noncooperation by itself. After all, missing funds may be made up for by an upsurge in individual and foundation grants, especially from billionaires. Several billionaires are strong PP supporters and might give substantial donations if they see taxpayer funding cut; for them, giving a few million dollars would be like the rest of us buying extra potatoes.
Yet the fewer the number of women who are going to PP, the less power PP has. Its funding flows are only part of the picture.
If you know of good alternatives, in the same vicinity, to your local PP center, that makes it easier to talk women into going there instead of PP. Not all women will want to, of course, but the information that they can go to these alternative health centers fairly easily is the first step in giving them the facts about PP and persuading them to do so.
Because whatever happens with PP funding – all the money that comes not just from taxpayers but from supporters – lower numbers of clients coming is crucial to the long-term success of noncooperation with PP.
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
For more of our blog posts on nonviolent campaigns about Planned Parenthood:
For the campaign itself — Grassroots Defunding: Finding Alternatives to Planned Parenthood, see: