Abortion Opponents: Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted (again) to defund Planned Parenthood. Another battle in the ongoing war on Planned Parenthood and abortion. Right?


If you listen to the candidate debates, it’s all about abortion, but if you follow what “abortion opponents” actually do once elected, the motivation becomes clear—it’s not just abortion they’re trying to take down. They also want to deprive women of access to contraceptives and other preventive health services, and are using abortion and Planned Parenthood to do it.

The “abortion opponents” would like us to believe that they have nothing against family planning or other services. If, in the process of curbing abortions, they also shut down some family planning clinics that provide women with other essential services, it’s not intentional. As they say in war, it’s “collateral damage.” But when you take a closer look at the intended targets, it’s not “collateral”—it’s a direct hit.

A report from the Guttmacher Institute reveals that between January 2011 and August 2015, states passed an unprecedented 287 new abortion restrictions, forcing numerous clinics around the country to close their doors. This summer, following a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, there was a fresh new wave of assaults on the healthcare provider, including efforts in Congress to completely defund Planned Parenthood. All this is being done under an “anti-abortion” banner, but take a look at what the ground troops are actually doing.

First of all, let’s be clear: Virtually no government money goes to fund abortion services. The only government money that does so is for women who meet a couple of exceptions allowable under Medicaid (rape, incest and when the woman’s life is in danger), and abortion services, overall, account for only a tiny fraction of the services provided by Planned Parenthood.

If the U.S. House has its way, Planned Parenthood would no longer receive any Title X funding. Title X is the federal program that provides low-income households with access to family planning and other essential health services, such as breast and cervical cancer screening; pregnancy testing and counseling; screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs); HIV testing; and other patient education and referrals. But, wait, it’s not just Planned Parenthood that they are going after, the House Appropriations Committee this year voted to eliminate all Title X funding for fiscal year 2016. Eliminating Title X would mean that the 4.5 million women and men who use Title X for their family planning and related services would no longer have access to affordable care, whether provided by Planned Parenthood or some other organization.

Defunding Planned Parenthood would also mean that the organization would lose Medicaid funding (though that would likely lead to a court challenge). Planned Parenthood receives the bulk of its government funding in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for services it provides, such as birth control counseling, screening and treatment for STIs, and breast and cervical cancer screenings. Defunding Planned Parenthood would deny reimbursements for all those services, and would, in the process, deny millions of women access to their preferred provider.

Republican opponents of Planned Parenthood argue that other publicly funded health centers would be able to pick up the slack if Planned Parenthood’s clinics closed, but that is simply not true. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood health centers make up 10 percent of publicly funded safety-net providers, but they serve 36 percent of the clients seeking contraceptive services. In the 332 counties with a Planned Parenthood health center, the Planned Parenthood facility serves at least half of the women who are using safety-net clinics to access contraceptive services; in 103 of those counties, Planned Parenthood serves all of them.

It is clear that the fight over Planned Parenthood is over so much more than abortion. It is a fight over women’s right to have safe access to reproductive and other healthcare services. And it is a fight that we will—and must—win, because no matter where a woman lives, she should have access to affordable birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STIs, including HIV, pregnancy testing and counseling, and, yes, a safe and legal abortion.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. magazine newsletter.

Photo via Shutterstock



Jennie Wetter is the Director of Public Policy at the Population Institute.