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Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Justice: Moving from Defense to Offense

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We Need a Grassroots Movement

“Defund Planned Parenthood!” The familiar battle cry can be heard from all corners of the GOP.  Since the anti-choice group, Center for Medical Progress, released a series of heavily edited “sting” videos in July, federal funds dedicated to the nation’s largest reproductive health provider are in the spotlight.  Multiple state and federal investigations concluded Planned Parenthood affiliates did not violate federal laws regulating fetal tissue donation. With the threat of a government shutdown hinging on Title X funds (a federal fund for family planning and related health services) earmarked for Planned Parenthood, such evidence has done little to dissuade Republican legislators from waging war on the organization.

What does “defunding” Planned Parenthood mean? The messaging is intentionally vague, so as to imply that millions of federal dollars have been funneled into abortion care. In reality, Title X grants cover everything except abortion, like contraception, STD testing and treatment, and routine screenings for low income men and women. Already overstretched, other Title X grantees are unlikely to absorb patients from defunded Planned Parenthood health centers, especially in rural areas.

Who pays the price? Low income patients who previously relied on Planned Parenthood will be deprived of essential health services. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, the buck is also passed on to the American taxpayer. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly four dollars in cost savings are achieved for every public dollar spent on contraceptive services alone. Limiting the reach of Title X programs compromises smart public health policy; such investment in the long run saves taxpayer money.

Congressional leaders pontificating about the “horror” of abortion and threatening government shutdown over the allocation of Title X funds to “protect” taxpayers fuels a distracting media spectacle.  Abortion is a notorious wedge issue and it is a race to the bottom to appear the most anti-choice.  In the countdown to the primary elections, political posturing over Planned Parenthood creates an artificial divide, both between conservative candidates and the two parties.

This is nothing new. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have chipped away at abortion and contraceptive access for years. We can no longer rely on the Democratic Party’s defensive strategies that only serve to maintain the status quo. Grassroots activism and an independent third party free of corporate interests is needed to proactively fight for women’s right to the full spectrum of reproductive health services. The Hyde and Helms Amendments, which restrict the use of federal money for domestic and international abortion care, should be repealed.  Contraception, elective and therapeutic abortion, miscarriage management, and prenatal care should be easily accessed through a single payer health care system.  Reproductive justice doesn’t end at a woman’s right to choose. We must continue to fight for working families, so all parents have adequate resources to raise the children they want to have.

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