Senate Republicans, teeming with righteous indignation, introduced S. 1881, “a bill to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood of America.” Here’s a better name for it: the Abortion Promotion Act of 2015.
No doubt the authors of the legislation think that anything that hurts Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions, would further the anti-abortion cause. But their proposal — defunding all Planned Parenthood operations in retribution for secret videos showing the group’s officials discussing the sale of fetal organs — would do far greater harm to fetuses than anything discussed in the videos.
There already is a ban on federal funding of abortion, with rare exceptions, at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else. The federal funds Senate Republicans propose taking away from Planned Parenthood are used largely to provide women with birth control. And because there simply isn’t a network of health care providers capable of taking over this job if Planned Parenthood were denied funding, this would mean hundreds of thousands of women, if not millions, would over time lose access to birth control.
Take away women’s contraceptives, and a greater number of unintended pregnancies — and abortions — would inevitably result.
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Consider: Of the 4.6 million people who receive care annually under Title X, the federal family-planning grant program, about 1.5 million of them go to Planned Parenthood — and two-thirds of women leave with some form of contraception. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and other authors of the Senate legislation claim that other providers in the family-planning network will pick up the slack. But Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, says that’s nonsense.
“It shows an astonishing lack of understanding about how these networks are put together,” said Coleman, whose membership includes not just Planned Parenthood but hospitals, state governments, local health departments and others — most of which don’t provide abortions. “This is not a network that’s ready to roll,” she said. Even with Planned Parenthood still in the equation, “they are worried about their capacity to do what they’re doing.”
Coleman’s forecast if the Senate bill were to become law: “We would see rates for unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions to rise. There are very real implications to the public health.”
Planned Parenthood has itself to blame for the current crisis: Even if fetal organ sales are legal and rare, and even if the videos were highly edited by ideological foes trying to entrap Planned Parenthood by using phony identities, officials at the organization should have known they were a fat target for such things. There’s no excuse for callous talk about how the group is “very good” at performing abortions so that fetal hearts, lungs and livers can be kept intact and sold.
But I wrote in June about the paradox of anti-abortion organizations’ antipathy toward expanding the availability of long-acting birth control — a policy that would do more than anything else (including severe abortion restrictions) to reduce abortions. The same perverse logic is in play here.
The Ernst legislation says “all funds no longer available to Planned Parenthood will continue to be made available to other eligible entities.” But because Title X money is given as grants, this would be impossible to transfer to other providers in the short term, even if they were able to take on the load. And congressional Republicans’ assurances are suspect, Coleman notes, because they’ve already cut Title X funds by 13 percent, or $41 million, since 2010 — resulting in a loss of 667,000 family-planning patients annually. House Republicans this spring proposed eliminating funding entirely for the Nixon-era Title X program.
If Republicans are genuinely outraged about the Planned Parenthood videos, perhaps they should revisit the federal law that makes legal such harvesting of fetal tissue for research. Those standards were enacted in 1993, with the support of, among others, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., now the Senate majority leader and a co-sponsor of Ernst’s bill. If Senate Republicans want to end the use of fetal tissue in scientific research, they ought to say so — and endure an outcry from the medical community — rather than seeking to cut off women’s access to birth control.
House Speaker John Boehner has a sensible alternative to the Senate Republicans’ approach. “There’s an investigation underway and I expect that there will be hearings,” he said. “And as that process develops, we'll make decisions based on the facts. But let’s get the facts first.”
Facts first: What a novel — and refreshing — notion.
Dana Milbank, a columnist for The Washington Post, is on Twitter at @Milbank.