On Feb. 18, after three hours of emotional debate, the House of Representatives voted 240-185 in support of an amendment to a bill that would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Amid Republicans’ gory and gross mischaracterizations of abortions, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) stepped into the spotlight and spoke about her own miscarriage, being told that her child wouldn’t survive, and choosing to undergo an abortion. In the war being waged over abortion across the country, the GOP has won this battle. Yet Republicans did so without much compassion or reliance upon logic.
The controversy over Planned Parenthood is defined by the issue of abortion, but the amendment the House passed is not even about abortion funding. The House voted to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding under Title X, a federal program that provides individuals with family planning and other preventive health services.
Last year, Planned Parenthood received about a quarter of Title X’s $317 million budget, which it used to provide health services such as cervical and breast STI testing, cancer screenings, contraception, sex education, and basic infertility counseling.
Notable in its absence: abortion. By federal law, Title X funds cannot be used for abortion. At Planned Parenthood, abortion only constitutes 3 percent of the patient services offered. Yet according anti-choice politicians, the organization is Abortions ‘R’ Us. To them, if sacrificing Planned Parenthood in effigy and destroying its funding can’t solve the problem of abortion, nothing will.
So what exactly does the amendment intend to achieve? Fiscal restraint is offered as a further reason to support the bill. However, a 2008 study found that for every $1 in public money spent on family planning services (e.g. Title X funding) Medicaid saves the government $4.02 later. The real purpose of the amendment is best distilled by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): “What’s clear to me, if you follow the money, you can actually take the funding supports out of abortion. We then have a much better opportunity to move forward to be a society that says yes to life.” In other words, bully Planned Parenthood into no longer providing abortions by cutting its federal funding.
Yet Pence hasn’t examined how reducing federal funding for Planned Parenthood would affect the number of abortions performed. Neither did he examine who will really be affected by the amendment: women who cannot afford abortions. Sadly, the GOP has yet to address women raising children because they couldn’t afford an abortion with the kind of political and financial backing needed to support these same women. As Mike Huckabee recently said, “Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care.” If their case is truly as dire as he paints it, one would hope he and his fellow Republicans would spend less time moralizing and more time offering these women assistance.
Many false images and narratives are tied up in the abortion debate: women who cavalierly use abortion as birth control, welfare queens gaming the system, and evil abortion providers taking advantage of young women, to name a few. While this amendment may address those false ideas and assuage the consciences of the representatives who voted for the bill, people who actually use Planned Parenthood will be directly hurt by the funding cuts to the organization. No other national organization provides the comprehensive services that Planned Parenthood offers. Hopefully the funding cut for Planned Parenthood will not survive in the Senate.
Still, it’s important to recognize this amendment for what it is: a vendetta and political grandstanding, not an act of righteousness.