Planned Parenthood has run its abortion clinics for so long with the help of federal funding that it seems like a para-governmental agency which can’t exist without your tax dollars. That fiction ended yesterday when Planned Parenthood announced it would refuse federal funds rather than cease to provide abortion referrals to their clients — confirming that abortion is essential to their work.
Title X is part of the 1970 Public Health Services Act. It explicitly excludes funding for programs that consider abortion to be part of family planning. Recent modifications to Title X by the Department of Health and Human Services have sought to uphold this law by stipulating that no agency receiving federal funding may provide abortion referrals to poor, uninsured, Title X patients. A similar rule was implemented during the Reagan Administration, and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991.
If abortion were only three per cent of their work, and providing family planning and healthcare to impoverished women their main concern, then complying with the new rule should be easy. So why not agree to the rule? Perhaps because they rightly see that if $60 million dollars of federal funds can be taken away because of abortion, then all their federal and state funding can be.
Keep in mind that Planned Parenthood brings in revenues in excess of $1.3 billion dollars annually, and that about $554 million of those dollars — or 43 per cent — come from your federal and state taxes through Medicaid. That’s why you might have that para-governmental impression of the organization — they function as a delivery system for federal aid. That arrangement has worked alongside laws excluding federal funding for programs that advocate abortion because they were able to maintain the fiction of a separation of reproductive healthcare and abortion.
Yet in the face of new threats to their business model, Planned Parenthood seems to be at the crossroads. They have decided to double down on abortion advocacy after Dr Leana Wen’s most recent failed attempt to portray the organization as being healthcare providers. What’s interesting about yesterday’s announcement is the “ethical” argument mounted in defense of abortion. The new acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson, stated that the HHS rule was “unethical” and that it’s “really important that we not agree to be in the program” which puts so many women “at risk.” That is, Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America, is suggesting that abortion advocacy is a moral imperative, and that, contrary to our nation’s laws, so is federal funding for abortion advocacy. This is certainly a new strategy, if it is a strategy. Yet it simply makes explicit something which has long been implicit.
Planned Parenthood believes the legal right to abortion also entails a moral right, and that the moral right justifies the demand for unfettered funding for abortion advocacy. Now there is a logic at work here. If law in general is a teacher, we can presume that it will teach us to do what is good, and to avoid what is evil. But if a particular law is unjust — it does not teach the good, and does not avoid evil — then it will lead to a bad conclusion. If the premise is wrong, so will be the conclusion. The legal right to abortion is such an unjust law, and thus leads to the dangerous conclusion that we have a moral right to kill the innocent in the womb. Planned Parenthood has always operated on this faulty premise, which is why Alexis McGill Johnson can draw the conclusion that it would be unethical to participate in a program that does not advocate killing an unborn human being.
This is a crossroads for the organization. The new argument seems to double-down on abortion advocacy in a way which requires new talking points. The older talking points about healthcare, birth control, and mammograms — and the canard that the 332,000 abortions they provide annually are a small fraction of their work — are no longer sufficient. Planned Parenthood must make the case that it is fundamentally moral for American taxpayers to fund abortion advocacy by arguing that abortion itself is morally right, a conclusion the law currently prohibits. And if that argument fails in 2020, then they must persuade the private sector to fund them by the same moral appeal.
Planned Parenthood doubling down on a moral argument for abortion advocacy is finally honest. Yet it is not an argument which they can honestly win.
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