Defunding Planned Parenthood Is A Bad Plan

Paul Ryan recently announced that the upcoming House budget bill

Would include language to take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood (“PP”).

This is not surprising; certain Republican congress people have been vocal about their desire to do this and a similar attempt was made in 2015 but was vetoed by President Obama. The supposed impetus for the new attempt to defund, apart from having a new president who may (or may not) be more receptive, is a report from the “Selective Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” (the “Panel”).

The Panel was formed to investigate PP because of a video from 2015 that claimed to show a PP representative negotiating to sell fetal tissue. An investigation of PP after the video was released was done by a grand jury and they found no misconduct on the part of PP, determined that the video had been edited to be misleading, and actually led to criminal charges against the makers of the video instead.

The investigation by the Panel apparently also failed to find any evidence that would lead to any legal action against PP and the Panel was criticized by other members of congress for “misusing subpoena power,” attempting to “stop the progress of medical research,” and “intimidating the scientists who are engaged in this life-saving work.” But their report is still serving as justification for those who want to stop PP from getting any federal funding at all. The video, the report, and the fact that PP provides abortions are more than enough reasons some anti-abortion proponents need to try to stop PP from getting any tax dollars. But, if the defunding measure does pass, it probably won’t have the effects that anti-choice advocates want and it will have some very unfortunate negative consequences that will need to be addressed.

Some PP locations do provide abortions and it’s theoretically possible that taking federal funds away from PP may be enough of a financial disruption to the organization to cause some of those locations to close. But, other clinics also provide abortions. In fact about two thirds of the pregnancy terminations in the U.S. are done by providers other than PP. So, even if defunding PP resulted in the closure of all PP locations, it would affect, at most, a third of pregnancy terminations. Of that third some people would simply go to other providers. The people who this would mainly prevent from getting an abortion would be people in a location where PP is the only provider and who do not have the funds to travel to a provider in a different area. Basically, closing all PP would stop, at most, fewer than a third of abortions and the people who would be forced to continue unwanted pregnancies would overwhelmingly be poor rural women.

Functionally removing the right to choose from certain poor rural women is actually best case scenario, if the idea behind defunding PP is to reduce abortions. If the defunding measure passes, it may not have any affect on abortion numbers at all, or it could possibly increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. PP gets federal money through things like Medicaid reimbursements for STI testing and treatment and cancer screenings, and Title X funding for family planning. By law, and in practice, none of the federal money PP gets is used for abortions. Furthermore, abortions are not the majority of what PP does. In fact, some PP locations don’t even provide pregnancy terminations. Less than 5% of the services PP provides are abortions and, again, PP does not use any federal funds for those. Defunding PP would mean that the many people who rely on PP for health care would either have to find another provider or go without. For those who receive family planning help from PP, the loss of federal funding could mean they no longer have access to affordable birth control and this could actually lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

The plan to defund PP is almost definitely not going to do what its creators want – to stop abortions – and it definitely will do things that no one should want, like impede access to health care. This plan is also not really aligned with the views of most Americans. According to a recent Gallup poll, less than 30% of Americans believe that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. That number includes some Republicans and, fortunately, a couple of Republican lawmakers have recognized what a bad idea it would be to defund PP, and their opposition may be enough to keep this measure out of the final version of the budget bill. But, if the plan to defund PP succeeds, Paul Ryan and other supporters should also have a plan to explain to poor rural women why they have less of a right to choose than others; explain to Medicaid and Title X users who use PP why they just lost access to their health care provider; and explain to anti-choice advocates why this probably won’t result in a large reduction in the number of abortions.

Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.