Politics & Policy

A Time for Accounting

Planned Parenthood supporters at a Capitol Hill rally, April 7, 2011
Congress needs to defund Planned Parenthood.

Since when is “women’s health” reduced to contraception and abortion? Do we really think it’s a good idea to support Planned Parenthood, unquestionably and without oversight, and without a moment’s pause to assess who exactly they are and what exactly they do?

Karen Handel asks these questions after emerging last year from the center of a firestorm over the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut its ties with Planned Parenthood. The title of her book, “Planned Bullyhood,” conveys the theme of the story she tells. Komen’s sole mission is to find a cure for breast cancer. Period. Or so it was, until Planned Parenthood went to work to force the foundation to choose between two options: Komen could continue to support Planned Parenthood, or it would have to accept demonization for daring to make more efficient use of its donors’ money.

#ad#This is an issue worth exploring during this month that marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in the United States, as a bill has just been introduced in the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood.

The same legislation is introduced every year, and last year it actually passed. But before you say, “Figures, John Boehner’s war on women!” consider the perspective of its sponsor this time. Representative Diane Black is a nurse from Tennessee. She’s pro-life, but the issue of government funding of Planned Parenthood is about more than that. It’s about good stewardship of taxpayer money. Black stresses that “dollars are not being taken away from good family-planning services” if the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act were to actually become law. “Women’s health” would not be under assault. Funding would still be available for medications that include contraceptive drugs, which are sometimes prescribed for medical problems unrelated to the prevention of pregnancy (another mystery of the modern era, that we do not have better treatment for some women’s health problems). But such funding would be restricted to health-care providers whose lifeblood isn’t abortion.

These debates — not just over the Komen incident but over government defunding of Planned Parenthood — should be seen as opportunities for coalition building. Defenders of abortion give lip service to “women’s health” and “choice,” and here is an issue on which all of us can support both, but instead they are sacrificed out of deference to the political and communications powerhouse that is Planned Parenthood.

Last year, Planned Parenthood received $542 million in taxpayer support and performed 333,964 abortions. It has performed nearly a million abortions over the past three years. Pressure from within Planned Parenthood to increase the number of abortions it performs is an undercovered story, as the occasional clinic director questions both the organization and its priority. Planned Parenthood of South Central New York announced in late 2012 that it was de-affiliating with Planned Parenthood because of pressure to perform more abortions while some of the other services the organization offers are being cut back nationally. According to an analysis by the Susan B. Anthony List, Planned Parenthood’s most recent annual report indicates that cancer-screening and cancer-prevention services have dropped 29 percent since 2009 and that contraception services have decreased 12 percent since 2009.

“Even people who are pro-abortion can agree that we shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars” to fund the country’s largest abortion provider, Black insists. The challenge is education. When Planned Parenthood will bludgeon even an anti-breast-cancer group into backing the party line on “women’s health,” this is a wee bit of a challenge — but one we’re up for here in the United States in 2013, now, aren’t we? Most of us who care about women’s health are not pro-abortion. A Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus in December found eight in ten Americans favoring significant restrictions on abortion. There’s a reason Planned Parenthood doesn’t use the word “abortion” a lot in public.

Handel recommends serious congressional oversight of this entity that relied on government funding for 45 percent of its budget last year. In that, she joins Live Action, whose undercover videos at clinics have raised awareness of the problem, and Americans United for Life, among others. In Kansas, Phill Kline, a prosecutor who dared to investigate Planned Parenthood and file charges against it for actual crimes long before Lila Rose’s undercover videos, continues to be harassed, while political appointees and media have successfully circled around to protect Planned Parenthood from the law there. Too bad the White House is in the pocket of Planned Parenthood, because an administration that has made anti-bullying a cause headed by a president who talked a lot about “transparency” when he was in the Senate could be quite the natural leader here. Instead, a congressional hearing — not exactly a firing squad — would likely be characterized as an attack on a bastion of women’s health. But isn’t the time for such reckoning long overdue? Isn’t our financial situation miserable enough? Aren’t we sick by now of the alarming statistics, such as the “41 percent” that represents pregnancies in New York City that end in abortion?

On all fronts this year, we should be asking how we can be better stewards. We’ve been lousy stewards of taxpayer money, of life, of liberty. (Just ask the small-business owners fighting the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that employer insurance cover the cost of abortion drugs. Consider the religious schools, hospitals, and other health-care providers whose futures are uncertain because of the regulation created by the same radical “women’s health” crowd that went after Komen and keeps us from having a responsible conversation about how we spent federal family-planning money.)

We need to face facts. An honest look at Planned Parenthood, what it is, and what it’s doing shouldn’t be the subject of a fundraising pitch but a moral responsibility. The organization, which has poisonous roots deep in eugenics, has shaped our public debates about women and children, and for much longer than Roe v. Wade has been in existence. That’s not healthy. There’s an abort key that Washington should be hitting here. Informed citizens who want something better for our money, our civic life, and our very lives should insist that they press it.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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