Once again, I wish we could just get to the heart of the matter and strip away the comments that tend to color our arguments and incite the opposition unnecessarily.
I am certain I do not have all the facts, but what I do know is that there is some honest question and doubt over the way in which a Planned Parenthood is currently operating. The debate around this matter should not be a conversation about health care for women or the funding of abortions in the United States. The debate should strip away that rhetoric and focus on what is right and wrong.
Because of that simple fact, we need to take stock in some facts before acting. Let’s try to do that –
- Planned Parenthood uses both Federal and non-Federal funds to provide a range of important preventive care and health services, including health screenings, vaccinations, and check-ups to millions of men and women who visit their health centers annually.
- The reality is that PPFA provides contraceptive services, sexually transmitted disease services, cancer related services, pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services, abortion services, and other services.
- Planned Parenthood conducts 1 million screenings for cervical cancer, and 830,000 breast exams annually.
- Planned Parenthood conducts roughly 300,000 abortions annually, among the 5 million people the organization serves (26% of which are teenagers under the age of 19), and due to restrictions, federal resources are not used to fund abortion services.
- Planned Parenthood is a federation of nearly 85 independent Planned Parenthood affiliates around the U.S.
- Planned Parenthood is staffed by 27,000 staff members and volunteers.
- According to the organization, 75% of their clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
- Planned Parenthood’s net revenue increased 5% to total of $1.21 billion in its organizational fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, according to the most recent annual report I could find. About 45% of that revenue–$540.6 million–was provided by taxpayer-funded government health services grants.
I do not think that anyone could argue that Planned Parenthood doesn’t serve a sector of our society that desperately needs healthcare services. But there are a few other facts that we need to consider as well:
- Someone at Planned Parenthood messed up – they were caught on tape implying, saying or admitting to things that may or may not be at the core of the organization’s goals and objectives.
- Planned Parenthood receives 40-45% of their revenues from federal tax dollars.
- Women have other options for seeking primary care, contraception, STI testing, and cancer screening besides Planned Parenthood.
- In addition to the tens of thousands of U.S. doctors and hospitals providing this type of care, there were 1,048 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. which provide women cancer screening, contraception, and STI testing.
- The tapes that have everyone upset appear to demonstrate illegal activities regarding the selling of fetal tissue by the organization – violating several laws and potentially committing a felony.
Much of the controversy leading up to today’s debate stems from a lack of widespread public knowledge of who buys and sells fetal tissue, what it is used for, and what the law allows regarding its purchase and sale. It includes lack of information on how the tapes were “edited.” I too was disheartened and disgusted after reviewing the tapes. But I began searching the law and tried to discern what is currently allowed under the laws of the United States. Frankly, after reviewing the materials available on line, I am not certain which laws apply or do not apply to the actions alleged on the tapes.
For instance, scientists have been using such material in medical research for decades to study (and possibly develop cures for) a number of diseases and medical ailments. Federal law indicates that agencies may sell fetal tissue that has been “donated” for that purpose (through abortion), but they may not profit from it. According to federal law, agencies may only charge for the processing and shipping involved in transferring the material from donor to purchaser, but the law doesn’t regulate how much they may charge.
The bottom line is that there is ambiguity about the law surrounding the set of facts at hand. Additionally, there seems to be some evidence that Planned Parenthood (or some of their representatives) acted inappropriately. Since Planned Parenthood lobbies for and accepts federal resources, any Member of Congress or the President, should be clear on all the facts before allowing them or any grant recipient to continue to use federal resources for potentially illegal purposes.
So, rather than being bogged down in politics, or semantics, it makes sense to hold agencies or organizations accountable for the way in which they utilize those resources in the operation of their organizations. If Planned Parenthood acted inappropriately, or in the worst-case scenario, illegally, they should be held accountable.
The fact that Planned Parenthood does good things for women and men requiring healthcare is irrelevant. Those good deeds do not, nor should they, give the organization a “pass” on the fact that they might have engaged in bad actions, or have a few bad actors on their staff.
Does that mean that we should advocate for a defunding of the organization’s resources for a full year? Perhaps not.
However, any recipient of federal funding is subject to upholding the law and the restrictions that come with accepting those federal dollars. That same standard must be applied to Planned Parenthood.
Our system of government and law dictates that federal funding for Planned Parenthood – and any other organization that allegedly abuses the law – at the very least be frozen until all the facts can be sorted out and any applicable laws are researched to ensure that no laws have been violated.
That is something we should all be able to support.
Note: the United States House of Representatives considered two bills related to this subject today. H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (which passed by a vote of 241-187) and H.R. 3504, the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (which passed by a vote of 248-177).