The House of Representatives recently voted in favor of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Though the bill is unlikely to make it through the Senate (and even if it does Obama will likely veto it), Planned Parenthood is still under fire. Some Republicans have even threatened to shut down the government — against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s advice — if Planned Parenthood continues to receive federal funding. And a few weeks ago, a Planned Parenthood clinic (one that didn’t perform abortions, by the way) was attacked by an arsonist.
Why are so many people attacking Planned Parenthood all of a sudden? The organization’s detractors have offered many reasons, all of which are bullshit. Here they are.
1. “Planned Parenthood sells dead baby parts!”
Recently, a shady organization released a deceptively-edited video that appeared to show a monstrous woman talking about Planned Parenthood selling aborted fetuses in some kind of horrifying black-market organ-selling scheme.
The problem? It’s total bullshit. Planned Parenthood doesn’t profit off of the sale of human parts; in fact, it’s illegal to do so in the United States, and five investigations have found that Planned Parenthood obeys the law. The Hill reports:
Pennsylvania joins Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota as stated that have conducted reviews and found no fetal tissue sales or violations of the law.
“Although donation of fetal tissue is lawful under the Abortion Control Act and federal law, our review has found that Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania do not participate in this practice,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy wrote in a letter to a state legislator. “Moreover, there is no evidence that any Planned Parenthood site in this Commonwealth is involved in the buying or selling of fetal tissue.”
Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue to laboratories for the purposes of medical research, which is completely legal. If that law bothers you, then you’d better contact pro-life congressmen Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI), who all voted in favor of legalizing the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research and are now trying to defund Planned Parenthood.
And you’d better get really mad at Ben Carson, another pro-life conservative politician who is also attacking Planned Parenthood at the moment. In 1992, Ben Carson performed medical research using the brain and nasal cavity tissues of two fetuses aborted at nine weeks and 17 weeks.
Human fetal tissue has been used in medical science for a long time, and has led to medical advancements that have saved millions of people from disease, dismemberment and death. Fetal tissue research led to a Nobel Prize-winning polio vaccine. If you’ve never spent time in an iron lung, thank the scientists who dissected all of those human fetuses.
WHAT IS FETAL TISSUE USED FOR?
Tissue from elective abortions and miscarriages is used for a wide variety of purposes. Scientists who want to regenerate organs and tissues may use it to learn how the human body makes them in the first place. Others look for defects in early development that can cause disease or miscarriage, or study normal development, which can guide therapeutic strategies. The tissue is also used to learn how medicines or toxins affect a fetus.
IS USING FETAL TISSUE A NEW IDEA?
Hardly. Scientists have worked with it since the 1930s. The 1954 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded for work with fetal tissue that led to developing a vaccine against polio. The National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on human fetal tissue research in fiscal 2014.
WHAT DISEASES ARE BEING STUDIED TODAY?
AIDS and muscular dystrophy, for example. Some experimental treatments for spinal cord injury and macular degeneration involve transplanting fetal cells into patients. And European researchers recently began a study of putting fetal tissue into patients’ brains to treat Parkinson’s disease, a strategy that has had mixed results in the past.
Medical research using fetal tissue has been saving human lives since the 1930s. Unfortunately, the current frenzy against fetal tissue research is making it more difficult for scientists to carry out the experiments that could lead to further life-saving medical advancements.
Medical research involves experiments on dead fetus parts. And dead baby parts. And dead child parts. And dead adult parts. And dead grandma and grandpa parts.
Medical students study anatomy by dissecting a human carcass; as the semester carries on, the students get past their initial squeamishness and learn how to view the human body with unemotional detachment (except for when they play zany pranks on each other involving sawed-off hands and feet). It’s unsettling, yes, but it’s not evil — it’s science. The alternative is a world overrun by hideous diseases.
2. Planned Parenthood is racist!
On Facebook, national embarrassment Sarah Palin posted an excerpt from a column she wrote in which she claims that Planned Parenthood is a genocidal organization hell-bent on annihilating the black population.
She alleged that the organization was rooted in racism and exists for the purposes of carrying out founder Margaret Sanger’s evil eugenicist schemes.
Now, Margaret Sanger did believe in using careful reproduction in order to improve human society. Part of that involved fighting poverty: people with access to birth control could limit their family size and make sure only to have as many children as they could afford to properly feed, clothe and educate, thus rescuing the next generation from being trapped in an endless cycle of destitution and despair.
Another part of Sanger’s mission was to use birth control to limit the breeding of the “diseased, feeble-minded, and … pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support.” So, she could be called a eugenicist, though her interest in eugenics seemed to be based more on issues of mental strength than on race.
It’s still disturbing by the standards of present-day morality, but remember that eugenics was a popular belief at the time, shared by people such as Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikolai Tesla, and even Helen Keller.
In fact, the crusade against Planned Parenthood has its roots in white supremacy. Many of Sanger’s opponents feared that birth control threatened white supremacy by allowing “inferior races” to out-breed white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. President Theodore Roosevelt vehemently opposed birth control for that very reason, calling it “race suicide.” Sanger had to write to him to assure him that birth control would not allow the “fit” to overwhelm the “unfit.”
It must be noted today that anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment is reaching a fever pitch just as conservatives panic about immigrants from Latin America “taking over” the country. It has been predicted that within about 30 years, white people will be a minority in the United States, while Hispanics will become the largest racial demographic. Perhaps forcing white women to give birth, even against their will, is the GOP’s way to prevent this; they’re trying to use the use the bodies of white women to out-breed the Latinos.
Margaret Sanger’s racial attitudes a century ago were fairly progressive for her time, and probably more progressive than Donald Trump’s racial attitudes are today. She collaborated with black community leaders to bring family planning to low-income neighborhoods. At the invitation of Urban League leader James H. Hubert, Sanger opened a clinic in Harlem; the clinic was staffed by black doctors and directed by a board of black medical personnel and activists. It received the approval of NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois.
That’s not the only civil rights leader who praised Margaret Sanger, either. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King both spoke highly of Planned Parenthood. In fact, Rosa Parks served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger award in 1966. Though he could not attend the ceremony himself, he sent his wife in his stead, who said, “This award will serve not only to inspire him but encourage him to continue in the work he is doing.”
In a pamphlet titled “Family Planning: A Special and Urgent Concern”, King wrote,
There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist — a nonviolent resistor. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions.
At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified our actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning.
Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.
Not only did Martin Luther King, Jr. agree with Sanger’s mission to promote birth control, but he praised her for inspiring him to pursue a campaign of non-violent resistance. That’s enormous, coming from him.
Would King have supported abortion? It’s impossible to know. He was murdered before Roe v. Wade. But it’s safe to assume that he would not have approved of anti-abortionists’ violent campaign of terrorism against doctors and health clinics.
Unlike Sarah Palin, most black Americans don’t see Planned Parenthood as a genocidal nightmare factory. In fact, the majority of black Protestants are pro-choice.
And if the anti-abortion movement is so concerned with racism, then why have anti-abortion laws only been used to imprison women of color so far? In Indiana, an Indian American woman named Purvi Patel was jailed for “feticide”, which she claims was a miscarriage.
3. “I don’t want my tax dollars used on abortion!”
Speaking of public funds, family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood save the government a lot of money. A study originally published in the Milbank Quarterly found that every dollar the government invests in Planned Parenthood saves $7.09 in public funds. In 2010, publicly-funded family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood saved the government a total of $13.6 billion:
The gross public savings attributed to these services totaled approximately $15.8 billion-$15.7 billion from preventing unplanned births, $123 million from STI/HIV testing, and $23 million from Pap and HPV testing and vaccines. Subtracting $2.2 billion in program costs from gross savings resulted in net public-sector savings of $13.6 billion.
If you want to defund Planned Parenthood, you might end up having to pay higher taxes to make up that extra $13.6 billion. Have fun with that!
4. “I want to prevent abortions!”
Do you know a really good way to prevent abortions? Prevent unwanted pregnancies. How do you prevent unwanted pregnancies? By offering affordable birth control and by teaching people how to use contraceptives. Who does this? Why, Planned Parenthood!
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions.”
Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than it causes. The Milbank Study says, “In 2010, care provided during publicly supported family planning visits averted an estimated 2.2 million unintended pregnancies.”
Unintended pregnancies are more likely to end in abortion; intended pregnancies generally do not end in abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion in 2008. If we assume that abortion rates didn’t change too much over the course of two years, then government-funded family-planning organizations like Planned Parenthood actually prevented around 880,000 abortions in 2010.
Illegalizing abortions will not stop abortion, either. The Guttmacher Institute writes:
Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is high, at 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and Latin America, respectively — regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000.
Why is the abortion rate so much lower in Western Europe? It might have something to do with the comprehensive sex education school children receive there. Too bad sex education is so terrible in American schools. Hey, do you know who does train Americans to teach comprehensive sex education? That’s right: Planned Parenthood.
5. “I want to save lives!”
So does Planned Parenthood! In addition to preventing thousands of abortions every year as explained above, Planned Parenthood provides many other valuable healthcare services to poor people. In addition to family planning, the organization offers medical exams, cancer screenings, vaccinations and treatments for diseases of the reproductive system. The Milbank study notes that in 2010, publicly-funded family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood…
Averted … 99,100 cases of chlamydia, 16,240 cases of gonorrhea, 410 cases of HIV, and 13,170 cases of pelvic inflammatory disease that would have led to 1,130 ectopic pregnancies and 2,210 cases of infertility. Pap and HPV tests and HPV vaccinations prevented an estimated 3,680 cases of cervical cancer and 2,110 cervical cancer deaths; HPV vaccination also prevented 9,000 cases of abnormal sequelae and precancerous lesions.
Planned Parenthood saves people from cancer and AIDS and many other diseases. If Planned Parenthood is defunded, such people might not get the medical care they need. They may die.
6. “Well, those patients can just go to other clinics!”
Okay, so maybe Planned Parenthood does some useful things, but they’re not the only health center in town. If Planned Parenthood shuts down, their patients can just go to other clinics, right?
Wrong. In many communities, there is nowhere else for poor people to get reproductive health care. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, there are 103 counties in which Planned Parenthood clinics are the only family planning health care centers for poor people.
If those clinics shut down, people will have to travel far away to get low-cost cervical cancer screenings or IUDs. Some might not be able to access care at all. Vox explains,
Increasing a patient’s distance to a family planning clinic by 100 miles leads to an 11 percent decline in clinical breast exams and a 14 percent drop in Pap smears. Declines in care were even bigger among lower-income and less-educated women.
If Planned Parenthood clinics close, there will be fewer breast exams and fewer Pap smears. Patients would be less likely to detect cancer early, significantly diminishing any chance they would have of surviving cancer.
7. “You don’t need to go to a clinic to get birth control. Condoms are available everywhere!”
Condoms are easily available, yes. But there are forms of birth control besides condoms: oral contraceptives, the Nuva ring, Depo-Provera and so on. You can’t get an IUD implanted at Rite-Aid.
Many women use birth control for reasons besides preventing pregnancy. Birth control can regulate a woman’s hormones. It can help a woman with overly-heavy periods or uterine cysts. And even if you use a condom, it’s a good idea to be extra-careful.
8. “Abortion is dangerous for women. I want to protect women from abortion!”
When abortion is safe and legal, no one needs to be protected from it. A study published in PLOS One found that 99 percent of women who had gotten an abortion did not regret it.
When abortion is illegal, it becomes terribly dangerous. In Latin-American countries in which abortion is illegal, there are 30 deaths per 100,000 abortions.
And outlawing abortion does not lower the rate of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute; all it will do is ensure that more people die during abortions. It will also ensure that more people will die due to complications from unhealthy pregnancies, like Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, who died of a miscarriage because the doctors refused to give her a life-saving abortion
Even worse, in countries with strict anti-abortion laws, every uterus is a potential crime scene. Take El Salvador, for example, where women are thrown in jail for having a miscarriage. The Globe and Mail reports:
People motivated either by moral righteousness or fear that they could be implicated as accomplices routinely report women whose pregnancies end naturally, said Dennis Munoz, a lawyer who defends women prosecuted for “pregnancy-related offences.”
Vilma Garcia, 33, for example, found herself handcuffed to a hospital gurney in 2010. (This is not her real name. The Globe has changed her name and is using Ms. Ramirez’s middle name, because these women fear being publicly identified due to the enduring stigma about abortion.) Ms. Garcia was the married mother of a nine-year-old and using birth control, and had no idea it had failed. “The first I knew I was pregnant was when I was having a miscarriage.” She began to hemorrhage and lost consciousness in her bathroom one night; her husband took her to hospital, where staff reported her for a suspected abortion.
“I woke up and I was handcuffed and I knew I was going to go to jail for something I didn’t do.” She spent 11 months in jail charged with homicide, and her husband was held for seven months as a suspected accomplice, before a human-rights organization managed to get the charges dropped.
To jail a woman who has already suffered the trauma a miscarriage is nothing less than barbaric, and that is what will happen in America if pro-lifers get their way. In fact, it already happened in Indiana.
8. “I want to stop abortions — except mine!”
Many pro-lifers are adamantly opposed to abortion — but only for other people. But when pro-lifers end up with an unwanted pregnancy, they’re just as willing to get an abortion as pro-choicers. Take staunch pro-life Tennessee State Representative Scott DesJarlais, who frequently voted against abortion rights but pressured his wife and his mistress to have abortions. Or take any one of the many pro-life women who believe that abortion is murder and should be illegal but still seek abortions for themselves.
Rich, powerful people like DesJarlais will have no problem procuring abortion or contraceptives if Planned Parenthood is abolished or abortion is outlawed; DesJarlais’s money will take care of that. But to any pro-lifer who believes that her abortion, unlike everyone else’s, is justifiable: remember that the government won’t make exceptions for special little snowflake pro-lifers who feel super-remorseful about it.
Poorer women who find themselves pregnant might end up doing what the desperate girls in my mother’s South Bronx neighborhood did before Roe v. Wade: throwing themselves down the stairs to induce miscarriage.