A tumultuous series of events has left Planned Parenthood battling congress for their right to government funding. This debate has caused many to fear for the future of their health care and wonder whether this conversation is truly about Planned Parenthood or more about robbing women of their basic rights.
This issue arose in July 2015 after the anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, released a heavily edited video which falsely depicted Planned Parenthood illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood donates the fetal tissue of aborted babies for research purposes only if the woman having the procedure gives consent. In the past, fetal tissue helped scientists develop vaccines for polio and rubella. Now, the tissue is used to study potential treatments for diabetes, birth defects, and cancer. Officials at Planned Parenthood responded to the accusations, stating that the organization does not accept money for the fetal tissue of aborted babies, however, as stated in the New York Times, is legally allowed “to be reimbursed for the cost of getting, storing and processing the tissue for research use.” The organization claims this was the act that was manically manipulated in the video.
One would assume that this clarification would resolve this debate. The video, however regardless of its inaccuracy, inspired Republicans to take action against Planned Parenthood. A bill sponsored by Republican senators Joni Ernst, James Lankford, and Rand Paul was proposed to senate on Sept. 24, 2015. The bill proposed reallocating the $528 million given to Planned Parenthood each year to other entities that also provide women’s health services such as community health centers, county health departments, hospitals, physicians offices, and more. Unfortunately, using these other facilities as alternatives to Planned Parenthood can be problematic. Many of these entities are already far over capacity in terms of the number of patients they treat. Others are unwilling to step in and provide the services which Planned Parenthood covers such as providing birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, pap smears, as well as breast exams and abortion services. Some centers, especially those associated with the Catholic Hospitals, do not provide family planning services, something Planned Parenthood specializes in.
Planned Parenthood is one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality and affordable healthcare for women, men and young people, and the nation’s largest provider of sex education. They provide services to 2.7 million women and men in the United States annually. Cutting the funding the organization receives through Title X and Medicaid will make it significantly harder for citizens to obtain services which Planned Parenthood offers.
On Oct. 15, 2015, Planned Parenthood announced that “it would no longer accept reimbursement for the costs of providing the tissue for medical research,” as stated in the New York Times. Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah, is the chairman of the house of representatives committee that questioned Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. Chaffetz requested that a review of the organization’s documents be conducted. After examining 22,000 documents, the committee had still found no fiscal wrongdoings. The money Planned Parenthood has been receiving for fetal tissue is completely legal. However, the organization felt that in order to move past this issue, they must no longer accept the funds. Despite this agreement, there are still efforts being made to defund Planned Parenthood.
Much of the resentment towards the organization comes from Christian Republicans’ disdain of abortion. They will do everything in their power to shut down Planned Parenthood since women can obtain abortion services in some of the organization’s clinics. Senate did not pass the original bill so Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, recently proposed a bill in the hope of finding a compromise. The bill stated that one could not demand an abortion at or after 20 weeks, the fifth month of pregnancy. A doctor who performs an abortion after 20 weeks could face up to five years in prison. Though the bill passed in the House of Representatives, Democrats in Senate blocked it.
While Republicans face roadblocks in Congress, states have taken matters into their own hands. Six states have already cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. For the majority of these locations, Medicaid funds makes up 75 percent of the total funding which allows them to pay for abortions and other women’s health care. The organization must now find ways to obtain the funds to continue providing basic services to their clientele. The defunding will primarily affect those from a lower income demographic whose coverage has no use for the health care provided by Planned Parenthood. Many of the facilities were shut down simply because the state’s governor did not want to support an organization who was involved in the sale of fetal tissue. Not all Planned Parenthood clinics offer abortions and only one clinic in California has legally sold fetal tissue, however many facilities have lost funding regardless of whether their local office has distributed tissue or performed abortions.
This debate brings to question a greater issue. As Hillary Clinton said, “Republicans are using discredited and fraudulent attacks on Planned Parenthood as an excuse to advance their own partisan agenda at the expense of the people, particularly low income women and families.”
This debacle is not necessarily about abortion, but more so about Republicans capitalizing on a perceived mistake and crafting the issue into something bigger than it is so that they can rob women of their rights.
The fact that defunding Planned Parenthood is even being considered reminds me that women are still thought to be the nation’s second priority. This issue is one in which white males feel entitled to make decisions about female’s bodies and are capitalizing on their role in the government to reduce a group of people to a lower division in society while simultaneously increasing the gap between white males and citizens of other sexes and colors by stripping them of basic rights. This also shows us how much influence Christian representatives have in the government. Many of them believe that life begins at contraception and that abortion is murder. It is petrifying to think that these bills were halted solely because of the Democrats in congress.
One day, there may be more republicans than democrats in our government and we may have a president who aligns heavily with the Christian Right. This could result in women’s rights being severely challenged. As the debate continues, it will be interesting to see whether women will maintain these rights or whether the beliefs of the misogynistic Republican males in the government will take precedence.
[Image courtesy of Joseph Serrano, Redlands Bulldog photographer]