Abortion is one of the most controversial issues in politics today. But, is that all Planned Parenthood is about? Lylaah Bhalerao takes a look at the organisation and the work they do.
3rd August 2015: A Senate procedural vote to defund Planned Parenthood fell short.
Nonetheless, it launched a new wave of Republican attacks on abortion, with Planned Parenthood at the centre. This escalated over the summer – videos were released making allegations of foetal body tissue being sold; high profile figures such as Mark Zuckerberg (who donated $992 million to Planned Parenthood) voiced their opinions – to the point where there was a threat of a shutdown towards the end of the financial year.
29 September 2015: Congress voted 241-185 to defund Planned Parenthood.
So it seemed the Republicans were close to winning this battle.
But what is Planned Parenthood?
Importantly, it is not just an abortion service. In fact, abortion constitutes only 3% of the services which Planned Parenthood offers and none of the federal dollars received go towards it, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.
Planned Parenthood is regarded as a women’s healthcare service. 80% of services are intended to prevent unintended pregnancy, but this is mostly contraception. Planned Parenthood also provides crucial medical services such as 50,000 breast exams and 4.5 million tests and treatments for STIs each year. From a social perspective, Planned Parenthood delivers sex education and information to 5 million women, men and young people and runs an outreach programme for 1.5 million each year. For the USA, given their healthcare system, this is a profound service to have had since 1916.
Defunding Planned Parenthood would hugely limit the services on offer, as the organisation receives $5oom of federal money a year. This would have the greatest impact on the working class, who constitute the majority of customers. Crucially, it would undermine the importance of women’s healthcare and the right to choose by sending a federal message that abortion is wrong.
Republicans oppose Planned Parenthood out of their disapproval of abortion, which stems from the Conservative, pro-life base. This has not only led to the Congressional vote, but to the Wisconsin State Senate approving two bills to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding; an action which could easily have a domino effect. However, this will never stop abortion. As history has shown us, taking away people’s choice will not stop abortion, it just won’t be done safely. In this way, Planned Parenthood may be reducing abortion and saving lives through their extensive educational and informative services.
Yet, despite a poll which showed that 59% of people support Planned Parenthood, Republicans seemed determined to see the organisation shut down. They made allegations that Planned Parenthood was selling aborted foetal tissue after such videos were leaked. These were later proven to have been greatly manipulated, which demonstrates how far pro-life Republicans will go to legitimise their opposition to abortion, in particular Planned Parenthood. In any case, selling foetal tissue is not illegal in the USA and 13 Planned Parenthood clinics will not use federal dollars to fund this.
It is hard not to wonder if the timing of this outbreak of opposition, on the brink of an election year, is designed to appeal to the Republican base and the clerical community whose support is key to a Republican victory. It’s also a perfect stance to take in opposition to the Democrats and thus appeal to undecided voters. President Obama’s healthcare policy has been divisive, and this stance on Planned Parenthood may be a step towards dangling it over the Democrats in elections to come.
The USA has borne witness to anti-abortion violence since the rise of the gender equality movement in the 196os and 1970s. It is alarming that these attacks on equality continue:
4 September 2015: a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington was set on fire – the first of four arson attacks.
Ultimately, defunding Planned Parenthood would go against principles of gender equality. Primarily, it suggests that women’s healthcare is less important, but it would also be of great loss to lower income and minority groups, who depend on the service for information which will lead them to safe choices. Hopefully, the Senate will oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, as expected, and it is encouraging that the White House has promised that President Obama will veto any bill to defund.
If this recent battle has taught us anything, it’s that despite how far we may think we have come, the fight for a woman’s right to choose continues.