Michaela Cushing-Daniels is a political science sophomore and interns in the Senate office. “From the Hill” will focus on potential policies and bills making their way through Congress.
If you came anywhere near Capitol Hill between September and October, you would have heard quite a lot of raised voices over Planned Parenthood. However, all that remains of that hullabaloo is a faint whisper of the debate that took the Hill by storm when Republicans proposed bills in the House and Senate to defund Planned Parenthood. The Republican presidential candidates also took on the issue, as the classic, conservative, pro-life crusade took a new form in targeting Planned Parenthood for its use of tax dollars to provide abortion services and alleged selling of fetal tissue.
However, since the passing of the budget and the failure of the bills in Congress, there is almost nothing left of the rift that could have once again caused a government shut down. Why did the heated debate that once threatened to gridlock the government disappear almost without a trace? It may be the result of the shortened public attention span. Now that the window for change has closed, voters have moved on to more pressing matters, abandoning the fight against Planned Parenthood as a lost cause. It could also merely be the calm before the storm; a cooling off period before the debate returns in full swing. However, I think the most likely explanation is that Planned Parenthood does good work to support middle and lower class women and men by providing accessible and affordable health services, and the majority of Americans view it as such. In fact, over 50% of Americans expressed support for federal funding of the organization in polls conducted by Reuters, USA Today, and several other news outlets.
This is a result of the simple fact that while Planned Parenthood does provide consultations for women who are thinking about getting abortions, and yes, they help women find the services they need if they feel getting an abortion is the most practical option including performing in-clinic abortions, Planned Parenthood also provides a variety of other services to women who may not be able to afford those services otherwise. These include anemia testing; cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid screening; physicals; flu and tetanus vaccines; birth control; and assistance in quitting smoking.
Along with this plethora of services for women, Planned Parenthood also provides many services for men’s sexual health services including screenings for colon, prostate, and testicular cancer; infertility screenings and referrals; and treatment for erectile dysfunction, STDs, Jock Itch, and UTIs among other things. All these services are easy to access, affordable, and in some cases, life saving. These services make up about 97% of the work Planned Parenthood does according to their service statistics from 2013-2014. Considering that only about 45% of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from federal grants and reimbursements, it could even be argued that tax dollars do not fund the three percent of Planned Parenthood services involving abortions.
The other issue that disappeared along with yet another failed attempt to reverse the rights given to women by Roe v. Wade was the issue of the videos alleging that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue from what appeared to be babies that had initially survived abortions. Given that this was the factor that galvanized the public as many collectively recoiled in disgust, it seems odd that the public would let it go so quickly, especially since Planned Parenthood does donate fetal tissue for research purposes. While the public’s short attention span may have something to do with it, I think the more influential factor was that the videos were heavily doctored. Yes, Planned Parenthood donates tissue for research. Research is a necessary part of developing technologies and medical practices that increase our standards of living. However, Planned Parenthood is not an organization that heavily advertises abortions, nor does it convince women to get abortions in order to obtain fetal tissue. The accusations made by those who decried Planned Parenthood after the release of those videos were merely rhetorical, based on a disgusted impulse rather than facts.
So, why did the debate over Planned Parenthood evaporate so suddenly? Because the majority of the public believes the work Planned Parenthood does is more beneficial than detrimental, and having access to services is not the same as making them required. The existence of Planned Parenthood does nothing to decrease the standard of living for those who believe the services it provides are immoral or wrong. Therefore, it still exists, as those who rely on its accessible and affordable service would be worse off if it didn’t.