On Tuesday, the controversy over Planned Parenthood continued as the organization’s president Cecile Richards was called in to testify in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Since the release of videos taken by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion organization, which claimed to show Planned Parenthood administrators discussing illegal abortion procedures, Planned Parenthood has come under increasing scrutiny and attack. Planned Parenthood maintains that the videos were doctored as part of a political smear campaign to attack the organization. Since their release, four congressional committees have launched investigations against the group, and House Speaker John Boehner has said he will appoint a special committee to investigate as well.
In addition to investigations, conservatives have launched an all-out attack to strip Planned Parenthood of its $450 million of federal funding, which constitutes one third of its total budget. The first attempt by conservatives came in the form of a funding bill that Congress must pass this week in order to avoid a partial government shutdown on Thursday. The bill included a complete defunding of Planned Parenthood for one year pending the result of congressional investigation. After Democrats blocked the bill, and Boehner announced his resignation, perhaps in part due to his reluctance to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, House conservatives have taken a different approach. Instead, both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee are considering budget reconciliation, which can more easily avoid a Senate filibuster like the one that defeated the funding bill. In this way, the House hopes to use budget reconciliation to defund Planned Parenthood. However, this effort will likely be in vain, as President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and conservatives do not have enough votes to override a veto.
The congressional conservatives are not alone. Battles against Planned Parenthood have cropped up in states such as North Carolina and Utah, and Republican presidential candidates have jumped into the debate, some with more extreme stances than others. But with recent polls showing a majority of Americans support continued funding for Planned Parenthood, and most will likely blame the Republicans if the government shuts down over the issue, what do conservatives hope to gain from prolonging this fight?
It certainly has nothing to do with the budget, as the Congressional Budget Office projects that defunding Planned Parenthood would lead to an increase in government spending by $130 million over the next ten years due to Medicaid and other governmental spending on unplanned births.
It might not even have anything to do with the allegations of misconduct, as Tuesday marked the sixth state investigation to clear Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. At least seven other states have declined to investigate, while many others, including the congressional investigations, are still pending.
The real issue, then, is not saving money or preventing illegal activity, but targeting women’s right to choose. As Planned Parenthood is legally barred from using federal funds for virtually all of their abortion services, the only way to reduce the number of lawful abortions they perform is to cut their funding and force them to reduce all of the services they provide, which overwhelmingly consist of women’s health care and family planning services. Which would be fine, if there were health care clinics nearby who could adequately fill in the gap left by Planned Parenthood – but as the Congressional Budget Office suggests, as many as 650,000 women could be left without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations.
This is not new information. The country has already seen what happens when Planned Parenthood is not there to fill the gaps. When Texas voted to defund Planned Parenthood and other clinics that offered abortion services, there was an average drop of 25% in the number of women being served by clinics. In some regions the drop was as large as 40%. Despite an attempt to bolster other clinics, Texas realized that its attempts were not enough, in part because many women prefer to go to a specialist, or not be seen at all.
By taking a hard stance on abortion at the expense of women’s access to health care, conservatives are making a value judgment. They are telling women that our health is not as important as their statement against abortion and their views on what we should do with our bodies. They want our health and our right to choose. I, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, am sick and tired of it.