The anti-abortion movement seems to have gained new momentum. Thousands of protesters rallied outside Planned Parenthood clinics over the weekend. Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are demanding a crackdown on the organization. Several Republican governors have moved to cut off funds, including Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a state with just two Planned Parenthood clinics that don’t even perform abortions.
Energizing the fight, which threatens to complicate this fall’s federal budget negotiations and could lead to a government shutdown, are notorious sting videos from the so-called Center for Medical Progress targeting Planned Parenthood officials. But for all the outcry the videos have caused, they reveal nothing that changes the substance of the debate over abortion. That, though, doesn’t mean there won’t be damage.
Public time and money will be wasted in pointless efforts to investigate or defund Planned Parenthood. And, in some cases, defunders are likely to run afoul of federal law in their zeal to act on what so far have been phantom accusations of wrongdoing.
The videos seek to show that Planned Parenthood has violated federal law by selling fetal tissue to scientific researchers. It has long been legal for patients to donate culled fetal tissue for medical research and for abortion clinics to recoup the costs they incur to facilitate the donations.
The videos are strategically edited and employ familiar anti-abortion shock tactics, such as the use of gruesome images of fetal tissue and inflammatory language; they may show distressing insensitivity on the part of some Planned Parenthood staff, but there is certainly nothing close to illegality. Even so, several states have conducted inquiries into Planned Parenthood clinics within their borders. So far, none has found any outrageous cases of wrongdoing.
Absent from the videos, meanwhile, is information on why these tissue donations have been allowed to happen: to assist in life-improving and lifesaving medical breakthroughs. Whatever one thinks of abortion — and we understand the discomfort of those who are deeply opposed — a woman’s right to end a pregnancy is constitutionally protected, and there is nothing wrong with using the resulting tissue to help people as long as scientists believe it can be useful. Indeed, many of the women who donate see it as something worthwhile coming from a bad situation.
Defunding Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, would deny women access to all sorts of non-abortion services, such as contraception, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Fortunately, Democrats in Congress are not likely to agree to a federal budget with defunding language. And, at the state level, attempts to end payments to Planned Parenthood would run into a major legal problem — Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries must be allowed to choose any qualifying provider of women’s health services. States that ignore this rule could lose a lot of federal public health dollars and would certainly open themselves up to lawsuits.
Americans, according to consistent public polling, oppose defunding Planned Parenthood. Republicans need to wake up to both that sentiment and the facts and end their wasteful fixation on Planned Parenthood.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST