Here’s the Problem With That Popular Planned Parenthood Defense
When attacked, it’s a natural instinct to defend oneself as quickly and succinctly as possible, to shoot down bold lies with hard facts before they hang around and poison the air any longer.
And so when Republican lawmakers attempt to defund Planned Parenthood and presidential candidates paint the women’s health nonprofit as a sadistic baby-killing machine, I can understand why we whip out the numbers. They’re good numbers to have on hand when Jeb Bush says things like “they’re not actually doing women’s health issues” and that Planned Parenthood is “involved in something way different than that.” Or when Rep. Diane Black, sponsor of the House defunding bill, claims: “If there is reason to investigate, then there is reason to withhold taxpayer dollars during that period of time. The American taxpayer has been clear for a very long time that they do not want federal funds spent on abortion.”
Plenty of people have broken it down, but it’s worth repeating: Only 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood last year were abortion-related. Out of the 10.6 million services provided, 42 percent treated or prevented STDs. Another 34 percent provided contraception. Cancer screening and prevention accounted for 9 percent. (The annual report is available here.)
These are the numbers Rep. Lois Frankel had in mind during a debate on the House floor last Friday. “This bill is dumb, it’s foolish, and it’s mean-spirited. … If you want to have a truthful debate, then let’s talk about the 400,000 Pap smears, the 500,000 breast exams, the 4.5 million STD and HIV tests that Planned Parenthood does each year,” she said.
And, of course, the kicker: Federal Medicaid funds are only used for abortions in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.
It’s all true, and it’s all important when defending the existence and funding of Planned Parenthood, the only access some women have to care, both routine and lifesaving. But when we rush to highlight what small part abortions play in their mission and how little taxpayer money is used to fund them, we seem to forget something. And that something is important: Abortions are legal.
As in, legal, legal, legal. So fucking legal. Legal for decades, still legal today.
Thanks to Roe v. Wade and all of the men and women who fought to uphold it over the years, a woman has a right to an abortion in the United States. Whether you like it or not, abortions are as legal as Advil, and as long as that’s true, we shouldn’t have to justify or minimize their existence at Planned Parenthood. When we point out that taxpayer money very rarely covers abortions, we should be ashamed that we compromised the access of low-income women, not smug that a Republican lawmaker got the facts wrong.
If I were to choose to have an abortion tomorrow, the experience would not be unsafe, or even terribly inconvenient. I would not have to re-evaluate my family’s food budget, I would not have to search for a provider, I would not have to dangerously delay my procedure as I waited for another paycheck to clear. Instead, I would do what people who are lucky and privileged enough to have healthcare in this country do: Call my gynecologist, set up an appointment, and take a couple days of leave. Should some parts of the procedure not be covered under my plan, I could dip into my savings.
Whether you think this option should be available to me or not isn’t the point — in 2015, in the United States, it simply is. We’ve decided that women are entitled to a say in their bodies and the direction of their lives. Or, perhaps more correctly, that women who have the means are entitled to such things. If you don’t have money, we’ve made it clear that your body will still be policed and your decisions scrutinized by lawmakers who aren’t fond of the law. Abortion may have some grey areas in this country, but being poor? As usual, that’s a crime.
I can sympathize with those who are uncomfortable knowing that their hard-earned tax dollars may have paid for an abortion they don’t agree with — my taxes routinely fund things that I find morally ambiguous, questionable and disgusting. I can even understand the “pro-life” crowd (although I would suggest another name until they start caring about the lives and health of all women). I won’t be joining them, but at the same time, I can accept that abortion is a difficult issue, and one that will never be acceptable to everyone.
What I can’t accept is that we pick and choose who has access to a legal medical procedure. That’s a disgrace, not a counterargument to the lies of Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina.
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