Now Is the Time to Stand with Planned Parenthood

I haven’t written about the Republican debates to date, and I won’t get fully into them now, but I will say this: all the candidates are for de-funding Planned Parenthood, or are so proud to have done so in their states, or to have shut down the government in an effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

And to all those candidates who are so proud to stand against Planned Parenthood, I say: shame on you.

Shame on you for prioritizing your ideology over the health and lives of poor and uninsured women and men in the United States.  Shame on you for depriving individuals who rely on Planned Parenthood for access to healthcare of their right to maintain their own health, simply because you do not like one of the activities in which the organization engages.  Shame on you for promoting a pro-birth agenda that fundamentally ignores the rights and needs of many of the children born into this country as soon as they are born, simply so you can claim you are pro-life. If you are against food stamps, if you do not want to pour more funding into WIC, if you do not support teachers as they try to help students break the cycle of poverty, if you for the public shaming of single mothers (many of whom may not have had a choice in becoming pregnant), if you do not support efforts to provide a living wage or inclusive health insurance for all Americans, then shame on you.

We see what you are doing.  You are not pushing an agenda to “protect life”; you are pushing an agenda to punish women.  We see what you are doing, and now is the time for those who support women (and in this I include trans women and trans men as well, because Planned Parenthood is often the only provider in many communities equipped to provide trans-sensitive healthcare), to stand with Planned Parenthood.

What does Planned Parenthood actually do? The largest portion of Planned Parenthood services actually center around testing for and treating sexually transmitted infections; the organization provides nearly 4.5 million STI tests and treatments annually, including approximately 700,000 HIV tests.  Their next-biggest area is contraception, as Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of contraceptive services; according to Planned Parenthood’s website, about 80% of the organization’s patients receive contraception through Planned Parenthood. This means prescriptions for birth control pills or even getting the actual pills through Planned Parenthood, but it also means getting IUDs or shots of Depo.  Perhaps more importantly, Planned Parenthood is one of the few organizations with domestic violence screenings built into their intakes, and has been celebrated by clients for their willingness to recognize domestic violence issues and help patients plan around potential safety concerns from their partners when evaluating contraceptive options.  On top of that, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates provide education and outreach programs that reach approximately 1.5 million Americans a year, and provide a large number of pap smears and cancer screenings as well.

Abortions account for 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services.

Just to be clear, most of these services are being provided to individuals who otherwise could not afford them; as of 2012, the GAO estimated that about 79% of Planned Parenthood’s patients were at 150% of the federal poverty line or lower, or living on approximately $18000/year or less.  In many urban areas, these individuals are struggling to provide for themselves and often for children as well.

The controversy, of course, has to do with abortion, which Planned Parenthood claims accounts for about 3% of services provided, and which Politifact estimates is likely a service sought by approximately 12% of patients, many of whom may come to Planned Parenthood for more than one kind of service.  The biggest criticism is the broadest, the claim that abortion is murder; the legal standard for abortion is viability (that is to say, past viability abortion is generally only legal if necessary to save the life of the pregnant person). A second criticism is that Planned Parenthood gains a large portion of its clinic revenue from abortion services, but I would posit that this is probably because abortion services are disproportionately expensive as compared to services like birth control prescriptions, probably because administering an abortion requires more specialized knowledge than assessing contraceptive need and writing a script.  A third, and related criticism, which we have seen more recently, regards the sale of fetal tissue; never mind that the law does allow clinics to charge a fee to recoup the cost of harvesting the tissue, which would make this income but not revenue to the clinic, to some this has been seen as morally reprehensible (but again, this largely has to do with seeing the fetus as a person being bought and sold).

Look, no matter how you feel about Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, they still aren’t a reason to de-fund the organization, and I’ll tell you why. First off, abortion is still only a portion of the services that Planned Parenthood provides, and depriving individuals in need of access to all the other services they get through Planned Parenthood is, frankly, silly.  There are many communities in which Planned Parenthood operates where they are the only provider willing or able to work with uninsured persons, or able to do so on the scale necessary, and they are often one of the only providers able to provide judgement-free, culturally competent services to minorities, trans individuals, and LGBQ individuals. Second, many Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide abortion services at all, but since such a large portion of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from the government through Title X grants and Medicaid reimbursements, ALL Planned Parenthood clinics would be impacted if the current House efforts to de-fund were to be signed into law.

The government is the largest source of Planned Parenthood revenue, according to the group's classification.

Third, Planned Parenthood cannot use ANY of that federal funding to support its abortion services. Hyde Amendments have been attached to every federal bill allocating funding to Title X clinics, banning the use of federal funds for abortion services.  This means that all of the abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood are paid for through private insurance companies, through private donations, or out of pocket often with the help of local abortion funds.

Would de-funding Planned Parenthood through the federal government cripple the organization? Certainly, but that’s not something to be proud of, especially when there are so few alternative sources of these health services (and don’t let Jeb Bush fool you; crisis pregnancy centers aren’t healthcare centers, and they aren’t licensed to provide actual health services).  All that will happen is that communities which rely on Planned Parenthood will likely see spikes in unwanted pregnancies that parents cannot afford, and spikes in sexually transmitted infections when individuals cannot access the necessary testing and treatment.

The time to stand with Planned Parenthood is now. Here are a few ways to support Planned Parenthood in the current battle over reproductive healthcare:

  1. Donate.  It may seem obvious, but organizations like Planned Parenthood cannot function without funding from a variety of sources, including private donors.  Even small amounts can help make a difference!  You can donate to Planned Parenthood Federation of America (the part of Planned Parenthood that provides direct service) here, and to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (which handles their activism and political mobilization) here.
  2. Support abortion funds. They may not actually be Planned Parenthood, but the money they give their clients often goes to Planned Parenthood clinics. You can find your local abortion fund here.
  3. Sign the petition: tell your congressional representatives that you stand with Planned Parenthood; you can also call or write to your Senators directly to tell them to vote against the measures passed in the House.
  4. Volunteer. Local Planned Parenthood clinics often need volunteers to help with outreach and visibility, and those which provide abortions often need individuals to serve as clinic escorts.  You can get involved directly in your community by helping to fill some of those roles.
  5. Participate in the Pink-Out. Help provide further visibility for this issue by participating in Planned Parenthood’s Pink-Out day on Sept 29.
  6. Support candidates who will support Planned Parenthood. Even once we manage to beat back THIS bill, the reality is that Congress will keep attacking Planned Parenthood.  It will be harder if there are more individuals in Congress who support a pregnant person’s right to choose, and who are willing to stand with Planned Parenthood themselves.  You can find such candidates through organizations like EMILY’s List and the WISH List. These candidates need publicity, volunteers, donations, and of course, VOTES.
  7. Don’t forget to vote on Election Day!  This year, there will mostly be local elections in play (but don’t forget: a LOT of attacks on reproductive rights come at the state level, so keep these issues in mind when you are looking at state representatives and gubernatorial elections!!), but next year a third of the Senate, ALL of the House, and the Presidency will ALL be in play, so voting is key!  You can register to vote here.

As the student civics group I belonged to in high school used to say, democracy is not a spectator sport. If we sit back and hope that things will work out the way we want, we will inevitably be disappointed.  When I was uninsured, unemployed, and far from home, Planned Parenthood was there for me, and I am proud to stand with Planned Parenthood.

Where do you stand?

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~ by Randi Saunders on September 19, 2015.

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