Thursday marks Lobby Day on Capitol Hill for Planned Parenthood. If you’ve been on Capitol Hill lately, you may wonder how that makes it different from any other day recently, where “Will you stand with Planned Parenthood?” has replaced “What do you do?” — and the business-card exchange outside bars and offices has been replaced with petitions ready for your signature.
Ever since Lila Rose’s Live Action released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials’ willingness to aid and abet illegal activity — namely, sex trafficking — the nearly billion-dollar organization has been working overtime to protect its “brand.”
Brand is in quotes because it’s a quote from Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards (daughter of the late former Texas governor Ann Richards). She told Politico last month that “going after the strongest brand in women’s health in America is one of the stupidest things the Republican Party could have done.”
Stupid? Or effective? As defunding Planned Parenthood has become a rallying cry of not just pro-life activists but fiscal conservatives like Grover Norquist, its pretty-in-pink media and bipartisanly protected spin as a beacon of “women’s health” is coming undone.
For decades, pro-life activists have been on to Planned Parenthood, its eugenic roots, and its abortion business, but finally, its well-protected spin has been penetrated. Its untouchable status as a beacon for women’s health has been revealed to be but a pink cloak covering a darker underbelly.
They rally for “women’s health” on the Hill Thursday — but under a cloud of increasing questions and skepticism about their mission. And even more fundamentally for members of Congress and the American taxpayer: about why they are receiving federal funding.
You may have met Abby Johnson by now. She’s the former Planned Parenthood director who figured out how Planned Parenthood works and left — and now stars in TV and radio ads in the Washington, D.C., area courtesy of the Susan B. Anthony List and other groups. Her journey reflects, a bit, the politics of the moment.
Johnson, who first got involved with Planned Parenthood after an encounter at a volunteer fair, bought the “women’s health” talking points. But that positive image conceals the organization’s real business: abortion, as she would eventually see and reveal. It’s how they make their money and it’s where the lifestyles they encourage all too easily lead.
Johnson, who writes about her journey in her book, Unplanned (which she talks about at length here), began to realize these things after her own second abortion. She began to connect the dots, as she saw so many women come to her clinic for multiple abortions, despite using contraception (it’s not foolproof, contrary to the message we’re so often told to give kids). She began to realize that, as she — a clinic director — was given increased abortion goals.
So much for the “rare,” in Bill Clinton’s infamous “safe, legal, and rare.”
The glimmer was finally off Planned Parenthood’s wilted rose with Johnson, when she found herself participating in a sonogram-guided abortion, in which the child in utero recoiled as it was under attack.
“I say their ‘brand’ is based on a lie,” Johnson says in response to Richards. It’s an institutional problem, she contends, in her book. But the manipulative approach is manifesting itself in colorful ways as Planned Parenthood rushes to its own defense. Among the lies she has in mind is the mammograms talking point: They don’t actually provide them, they only refer. And a spokesman insisting that if Planned Parenthood is defunded, “America’s emergency rooms will be overrun.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Johnson responds. “They don’t provide any emergency care.” And according to Planned Parenthood’s own information, their primary-care services are on the decline.
“Planned Parenthood claims to be a trusted provider,” Johnson worries. “They don’t seem very trustworthy. They provide shabby, very limited service. I would rather my money go to competent, comprehensive providers. Women do deserve to receive care from a provider they can trust. Trust must be earned. Planned Parenthood has not earned the American people’s trust.”
And — as is becoming clear as this debate over federal funding continues to unfold, in the weeks after the House of Representatives voted for the first time (after years of similar attempts) to defund Planned Parenthood — it is not the only health provider that could receive federal funding.
“Four decades ago, the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth and the American Future waxed lyrical that abortion ‘on demand’ and contraceptive distribution would reduce out-of-wedlock births and the abortion rate,” Chuck Donovan, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, recalls. “They wrote, ‘The Commission expects that, with the increasing availability of contraceptives and improvements in contraceptive technology, the need for abortion will diminish. It is encouraging to learn that there has been a marked increase in recent attendance in family planning programs in New York City.’”
Today the abortion rate there is 41 percent, and higher for blacks and Hispanics.
Something’s not working. And people are noticing. And it’s not just Johnson and her new pro-life-activist friends who are wondering why taxpayers ought to be paying for a questionable business model, and one that relies on and feeds abortion.
“Isn’t it interesting that the president of Planned Parenthood reacted like the high-priced $600K/year CEO that she is, by talking about their ‘brand’?” Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, reacts to the brand concern. She’s concerned too: “There’s no denying that Planned Parenthood has a strong brand — they are a $1 billion company. Also no denying they are the world’s largest abortion business. And over $360 million of our tax dollars indirectly subsidizes their marketing machine. So the challenge in front of us as a pro-life movement is to aggressively and shrewdly counter their Madison Avenue tactics with the truth. Abortion is big business. And Planned Parenthood is the biggest of the big. They’ve deployed a small army of lobbyists on the Hill right now to protect their federal subsidy. And the Republicans are taking a principled stand against an entrenched interest. In doing so they are supported by the vast majority — over 70 percent — of Americans who consistently tell pollsters they don’t want their tax dollars going toward abortion. They are doing what the American people told them to do in November and shining the light of inquiry on an industry bloated with tax subsidy and awash in controversy. I call that smart politics.”
And they’ve made a dent. They’ve certainly gotten Planned Parenthood’s attention, or it wouldn’t bother to blanket the Hill today — and so many other days (including, it seems, with paid help). Or to mimic Susan B. Anthony List with a competing bus tour of their own.
“From a fiscal standpoint, why are U.S. taxpayers borrowing money at a record rate to, in part, provide grants to an organization, Planned Parenthood, which raised $388 million more than it spent from 2002 to 2007?” Donovan asks. “There might even be a rule there for Congress to consider — any nonprofit that applies for federal funds should be required to reveal its reserves and explain why the taxpayers and not the nonprofit should bear the cost of the activity the grant covers. The easiest way to get to this result, of course, is to defund the grant program until the nonprofit can demonstrate real need for its services.”
Donovan, who co-authored the 1991 book Blessed Are the Barren about Planned Parenthood, continues: “ In the meantime, we are operating with the cruel irony that taxpayers are borrowing heavily from their children and grandchildren to fund programs that are quite busy about depleting the ranks of those children and grandchildren. As the low-birthrate, top-heavy welfare states of Europe are fast discovering through sovereign-debt crises and riots in the streets, this is a recipe for trainwreck.”
Not sure what to believe about Planned Parenthood? The Chiaroscuro Foundation gives a good primer in its recent “Does Planned Parenthood Need or Deserve Federal Funds?” report. But the questions shouldn’t and won’t stop with a Continuing Resolution or whatever the ultimate resolution of the 2011 budget fight is. Florida Republican congressman Cliff Stearns, chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which has oversight authority over the Department of Health and Human Services, promises hearings to come, complete with the department’s secretary — promising it gets some attention. And local officials, scared away from investigating complaints or otherwise holding Planned Parenthood accountable to basic law around the country because of the persecution of former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline has received for doing just that, may have a new momentum.
This is not your mother’s opposition to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood’s defensive action today signals that we’re entering a new season — one in which Americans who were never on the direct-mail list of any pro-life group are, at minimum, asking questions. For Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, a little education may be a dangerous thing.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.