The pro-life movement has supporters of abortion rights scared. During the past few weeks, the nation’s leading newspapers have devoted a considerable amount of column space to defending either Planned Parenthood specifically or legal abortion generally. In February, the New York Times published pro-abortion editorials from columnist Gail Collins and Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse. Not to be outdone, a couple weeks ago, the Washington Post published an online column from Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice. And last Wednesday, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus got in on the act, criticizing Republicans for both eliminating federal funding for the Title X family-planning program and defunding Planned Parenthood.
Marcus’s editorial reads almost like a full-page advertisement for Planned Parenthood: She manages to include every Planned Parenthood talking point, cliché, and sound bite. First she claims that eliminating federal funding for Title X would “increase abortions, raise federal health care costs, and swell the welfare rolls.” Her source for this information? A Guttmacher Institute policy analysis claiming that Title X contraception programs prevent 406,000 abortions and 433,000 unintended births every year. The cost savings come from the fact that some of these births would be covered by Medicaid and some of these children would be on welfare.
Of course, this analysis has a number of flaws. First and foremost, it does not analyze any actual hard data on either funding for family-planning services, birth rates, or abortion rates. Instead, the Guttmacher analysis assumes that funding for family-planning clinics will automatically result in more clients, greater contraceptive use among clients, fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer births, and fewer abortions. It fails to take into account that some people who obtain contraception from family-planning clinics would still be able to obtain contraception of a similar quality on their own. It also fails to acknowledge that easier access to contraception may increase the population of sexually active people and that people with access to more reliable forms of contraception may engage in sexual activity more often.
In actuality, there is no substantial body of peer-reviewed evidence finding that greater federal spending on contraception reduces abortion rates. Furthermore, Guttmacher’s own research provides little reason to believe that women lack access to contraceptives. Nine years ago, the institute surveyed 10,000 women who had had abortions. Among those not using contraception at the time they conceived, only 12 percent said that they lacked access to contraceptives due to financial or other reasons. Similarly, in their book Unmarried Couples with Children, sociologists Kathryn Edin of Harvard and Paula England of Stanford conducted an intense study of 76 low-income couples who had just given birth. Edin and England found that only a very small percentage of these women wanted contraception but were unable to afford it.
Another canned talking point offered by Marcus is the claim that federal funds only pay for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Of course, since money is fungible, Title X grants to Planned Parenthood free up other funds for abortion services. She also states that abortions represent 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides, a misleading statistic since whenever a woman obtains an abortion at Planned Parenthood, they typically offer other services and perform various tests, all of which count as non-abortion services. This makes it appear as if abortions are a small percentage of what Planned Parenthood does. Finally, Marcus implies that low-income earners will have nowhere else to turn for health services. However, there are alternatives. In fact, in one of Live Action’s videos, a Planned Parenthood employee encourages the pimp to go to the county health department for free services if he can’t afford Planned Parenthood.
Sanctity-of-life issues have been receiving a considerable amount of media coverage in recent months. However, high-circulation newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post have not granted much in the way of column space to leading pro-lifers. Granted, the horrid conditions in Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic and the most recent round of Live Action video did receive a sprinkling of coverage from the mainstream media. However, the editorial pages have offered little in the way of thoughtful commentary about why many Americans are becoming uneasy about abortion and are more likely to describe themselves as pro-life. It is disappointing, but unsurprising, that the mainstream media has largely concerned itself with granting prominent supporters of abortion rights a prestigious platform for their tired arguments.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.