Like the rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the move to defund Planned Parenthood comes with complications congressional leaders are glossing over.
Pro-life politicians have never liked Planned Parenthood, because it is a major abortion provider. But the current U.S. abortion rate is about half what is was at its peak. In fact, it’s at its lowest point since the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure nationwide. Pro-life groups credit state laws that place more regulations and restriction on abortions, but the declines have occurred in states with more liberal access, too.
Planned Parenthood receives no federal funds for abortion services, but it does get money for other health services, such as cancer screenings and contraception. Many pro-life politicians are opposed to birth control, saying that it encourages young women to be more promiscuous. But rates for teen pregnancies and unintended pregnancies have also dropped precipitously, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The teen birth rate has been in continuous decline for two decades. The rate for unintended pregnancies is at its lowest rate in three decades.
These are all positive trends, so politicians ought to be very careful about disrupting services that have played an important role.
The last time House leadership (which includes Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers) tried to defund Planned Parenthood, it cited a phony scandal fomented by a fake medical group. The Center for Medical Progress released edited videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissue for profit. The House held hearings and came up empty in its search for illegal activity. Several states, including Washington, conducted their own investigations, and Planned Parenthood was cleared. Still, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman had to shut down for awhile after an arson attack.
Here’s another complication, courtesy of Kaiser Health News: Defunding Planned Parenthood would require changing the federal law that allows Medicaid patients to see the qualified provider of their choice. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that blocking Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid provider list would cost the federal government approximately $130 million over 10 years due to the expected increase in pregnancy services. Why? Diminished access to contraception. That’s precisely what happened when Texas booted Planned Parenthood’s family planning services.
The ideological drive to thwart Planned Parenthood fails to consider where people would go for the many services it provides and the positive trends from those services. Congressional Republicans need to slow down and consider the unintended consequences.
(Disclosure: The Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation donated $250,000 to the new Planned Parenthood Clinic in Spokane, which is under construction. The Cowles family owns Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.)
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