Op-Ed: Stop the Attack on Planned Parenthood

We’ve arrived at that special time of the year, when the government threatens to shut itself down over some spending issue or another. This time, it seemed as though Republicans — not all, but a few persistent members — planned to hold the United States hostage over the issue of funding the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA, or, ‘Planned Parenthood’). On Wednesday, lawmakers agreed to pass a temporary spending measure to keep the government open through Dec. 11 sans a Planned Parenthood resolution, though not without efforts by the House, once again, to cut its funding.

Republican lawmakers have lately made defunding PPFA a priority. Many presidential candidates seeking the Republican nomination have sworn to defund the organization or, like New Jersey governor Chris Christie, have already done so in their respective states. Concerns about PPFA exploded after videos released by anti-abortion activists allegedly showed PPFA officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. On their agenda, Republicans have also laid siege to PPFA executive salaries, spending patterns of PPFA (for travel, parties, health care, etc.) and, of course, the GOP elephant in the room: access to abortion.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday. She called accusations by Republicans that her organization profits from the sale of fetal tissue “offensive and categorically untrue.” Richards said the contentious anti-abortion video was obviously doctored and was simply another ploy by edit-savvy opponents to discredit the women’s health organization. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) argued against PPFA’s apparently “lavish” spending, implying that Richards’ salary (roughly $600K) was much too high. Unfortunately for Chaffetz, his attack on Richards seemed logically incomplete and gave the impression that he thought Richards, a woman in charge of one of the largest women’s health organizations in the world, didn’t deserve her salary. She does.

Ultimately, most arguments against PPFA are as unsound as Chaffetz’. Several videos cited by opponents as categorical proof of PPFA’s “corruption” are almost universally considered misleading. The way I see it, Republican dissent is split three ways, each as biased as the others: 1) A lobbying group called the Planned Parenthood Action Fund provides political and monetary support for Democratic lawmakers — Republicans would like to, as Todd Akin once articulated, “shut that whole thing down.” 2) The original effort to shut down PPFA followed public outcry after contentious videos hit the mainstream. Republicans, particularly candidates for the presidency, have made defunding PPFA a populist battle cry, hoping to garner votes. 3) Abortion. Republicans will never miss the opportunity to shut down an organization that supports abortion, even though the practice is legal. What’s so frustrating is that they must not realize that Planned Parenthood provides a crucial role in preventing unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortive practices.

What’s more, the notion to stop federal funding of PPFA is in itself flawed. Planned Parenthood is prohibited from using federal funds, which come mostly through Medicaid reimbursements, to support abortions. Legally donating fetal tissue and providing abortions are very small portions of Planned Parenthood’s many services. Ending federal aid (about $400 million/year) would do more than simply limit the efficacy of the organization — it would put a significant strain on PPFA’s ability to provide its many other services; these include access to birth control, emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and prenatal care for low-income women. Many have called Republican demand for defunding PPFA a war on women — more accurately, it’s a war on women’s ability to access necessary services and choose what’s right for themselves and their bodies.

Unfortunately, this is hugely contentious right now. It shouldn’t be. Defunding PPFA would do untold levels of harm for women across the country. Though lawmakers have voted to table the issue for now, come December, we’ll be right back in the fray.

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