As the newly elected Congress goes into session this January, a hotly debated topic is likely to be re-litigated: whether or not to defund Planned Parenthood.
In the recent past, anti-abortion Republicans have sought to deny the organization federal funding due to its provision of abortions.
The right to an abortion and to make one’s own medical decisions is important and should not be denied, but the argument in favor of Planned Parenthood is, in reality, about so much more.
Many anti-abortion politicians grossly overestimate the number of abortions that are performed in Planned Parenthood clinics. In reality, abortions only comprise approximately three percent of clinics’ services. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s care includes STD testing, contraception, cancer screenings and prevention, pregnancy tests and prenatal care. In addition, clinics administer HPV testing and the Gardasil vaccine, which is an essential precautionary measure against cervical cancer.
These services benefit women, men and unborn children alike, and if Congress votes to defund Planned Parenthood, it will endanger the health of the five million people who receive care, counseling and education from Planned Parenthood each year.
In addition, Planned Parenthood serves a largely low-income clientele, many of whom also rely on clinics for general health care such as flu vaccines and cholesterol screenings.
If Planned Parenthood is defunded, many people simply would have nowhere else to turn for those services. The fact that Medicaid reimbursement accounts for 80 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue speaks to how many of its patients are impoverished. The last thing that Congress should do is deprive low-income Americans, who may already be at higher risk for certain health conditions, of reliable, affordable, and accessible health care.
Without the sex education and family planning that Planned Parenthood provides to 1.5 million people in person and 52 million people online each year, more people, particularly adolescents, would engage in risky behavior that would lead to more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Congress must recognize that defunding Planned Parenthood will not reduce the number of abortions performed in the U.S. nor the demand for them. Rather, both will likely increase substantially: Planned Parenthood averts an estimated 515,000 unwanted pregnancies and 216,000 abortions each year.
Without access to free contraception, more women will become pregnant who are not physically, emotionally or economically prepared to be mothers.
Without access to safe and reliable abortions in the hands of reputable physicians, these women may turn to unsafe or even self-administered abortions, which could result in severe injury or even death. Politicians who claim that their beliefs are driven by the sanctity of life should not place women’s health and lives in danger by cutting off their access to this crucial resource.
Speaker Paul Ryan, who said that Planned Parenthood “should not get one red cent from the taxpayer” must reconcile his staunch anti-abortion stance with the truth: Planned Parenthood plays an instrumental role in preventing abortions by providing contraception and sex education.
Politicians in Congress, who are overwhelmingly male, are tasked with representing women but do not have the right to take control of women’s most personal and intimate health care decisions. The family planning services that Planned Parenthood provides ensure that children are born into families that are ready to care for them.
Women’s and men’s sexual health is just as important as any other aspect of health. Our legislators must wake up to the facts about the societal benefits that Planned Parenthood provides and stand up for the millions of Americans who rely on its services.