It’s All About Abortion! Douthat’s Misguided Attempts to Attack Planned Parenthood

Amie Newman

Ross Douthat is at it again - calling to defund Planned Parenthood, the health care provider that offers millions of Americans access to care critical for preventing unintended pregnancy and caring for ones' health.

Is there anything, at this point, that can explain Ross Douthat’s hubris in attacking a health care provider that offers care to millions of low-income Americans, as health care becomes more a privilege than a right for all Americans?

His latest column reveals he enjoys making baseless claims to support
his belief system. Douthat, like many anti-choice movement
members, wants to strip women (and men) of a certain income level of this country of reproductive
and sexual health care because he doesn’t like that some
providers offer comprehensive, legal medical procedures with which he doesn’t agree. Douthat is opposed to legal abortion, so he
painstakingly plays off of a Family Research Council fabricated controversy over Planned Parenthood – the provider nationwide that happens to
represent one of the few options remaining for women (and men!) of a
certain income level who need (no, not want) critical health care
like contraception, family planning, sexually transmitted infection
testing and treatment, HIV testing, annual exams, Pap smears, and
more. 

Even William Saletan acknowledged what Douthat’s "campaign" is really about –  abortion. Saletan goes so far as to call Planned Parenthood the most "effective pro-life organization in the history of the world."

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But the Family Research Council (FRC) isn’t buying it. They claim, via an email today, that Planned Parenthood is "awash" in funds and that if Planned Parenthood truly wanted to decrease the number of abortions, rather than providing birth control, contraception and family planning (you know, those things proven to actually prevent pregnancy and STIs), they should just "stop providing them."  Because, you know, if Planned Parenthood stopped providing abortions, unintended pregnancy would magically disappear.

Douthat’s post is truly
as painful to read (in its lack of common sense and evidence-based reasoning) as the FRC email. As we engage in a nationwide discussion on the
absolutely horrifying state of our health care system – one in which millions
of Americans are forced to go without care, including
reproductive and sexual health care, in part because health care providers can no longer afford to treat those who
require Medicaid subsidies or to provide care on a sliding scale
basis, Douthat and the FRC want to refocus Americans’ attention on
dismantling an organization that does provide such care. Planned Parenthood steps in, with the aid of tax dollars (and where
else would Douthat like to see “his” tax dollars go in order
to ensure health care for the millions of Americans who need STI
prevention services, HIV testing, contraception, family planning,
annual exams, Pap smears and more?) in order to provide these
services. Yes, they also provide abortions. And, yes, Douthat and
others do not like abortion. But, here’s the thing:

  • Planned Parenthood
    must (by federal law) keep their abortion services separate from
    their other services. The funding they receive to ensure that
    millions of Americans are given access to critical reproductive and
    sexual health care services must be funneled to those services.
    Federal law dictates that taxpayer money cannot pay for abortions.
    If Douthat has evidence that the organization is behaving in a
    fraudulent manner in this regard, then there’s a story here.
    If not, Douthat is simply registering his frustration with the fact
    that a legal medical procedure for women can be provided by an
    organization that also receives federal funds to provide other
    health care. I’m afraid Douthat has a big battle in front of
    him. What about those folks who believe contraception is murder?
    Should we bar health care providers who offer contraception to
    patients from receiving federal or state money too? What about
    independent physicians in private practice who perform abortions and
    also accept Medicaid subsidy for low income clients for other
    services (though, as I mentioned above, they are fewer and farther
    between these days)?

  • While
    Douthat tries to turn that 3% of Planned Parenthood costs spent on
    abortion care into a 250,000 number-of-abortions outrage he’s still
    left with the original (true) fact – 3% of Planned Parenthood’s
    services are abortion services. Which means that 97% of services
    Planned Parenthood provides are reproductive and sexual health care
    services which are not abortion. Douthat comes awfully close to admitting that the anti-choice
    movement is anti-contraception as well. He complains
    that 250,000 abortions/year are too many, but what is his
    answer? Defund Planned Parenthood, the organization that ensures
    that millions of young women and men are given the preventive tools,
    care and information to avoid unintended pregnancy.

As
a former women’s health center employee and part of the
reproductive health movement that prioritizes prevention, education
and trust, this next part of Douthat’s “argument”
makes my head spin. Douthat tries to “prove” that Planned
Parenthood is somehow fudging the numbers by using an article
Charlotte Allen wrote:

Just three percent,
hmm? Why, that makes it sound like Planned Parenthood almost never
performs abortions. Of course, the reality is rather different, as
Charlotte Allen noted last year:

The 3 percent
pie slice in the 2005-06 financial report, representing 264,943
abortion customers served, can only be described as deliberately
misleading.

So, here we go again.
First of all, as any current or former nonprofit employee of a service
organization understands, in an annual report, you categorize
services in terms of percentages. If Planned Parenthood’s
abortion services make up 3% of their services, then categorizing this fact isn’t “sneaky” – it’s true.
But more than that, the way Douthat uses Allen’s reasoning to “prove” how Planned Parenthood tweaks
this number is stunning in its ability to demonstrate how little
anti-choicers understand about women’s health care provision
and how badly they want to politicize women’s health care at
any cost
.

 

One way Planned
Parenthood massages the numbers to make its abortion business look
trivial is to unbundle its services for purposes of counting. Those
10.1 million different medical procedures in the last fiscal year,
for instance, were administered to only 3 million clients. An
abortion is invariably preceded by a pregnancy test–a separate
service in Planned Parenthood’s reckoning–and is almost always
followed at the organization’s clinics by a "going home"
packet of contraceptives, which counts as another separate service.
Throw in a pelvic exam and a lab test for STDs–you get the picture.
In terms of absolute numbers of clients, one in three visited Planned
Parenthood for a pregnancy test, and of those, a little under one in
three had a Planned Parenthood abortion.

 

Okay, so, for the sake
of anti-choice advocates who want to see abortion criminalized, I’ll
address Allen’s points but I am hopeful that Rewire
will present an actual health care provider’s perspective to
crush this nonsense.

Planned Parenthood
isn’t “massaging” numbers by separating out
numbers of reproductive and sexual health care services
provided to women either before or after an abortion. When a woman
comes to a health care provider with an unintended pregnancy and
wishes to discuss her (legal!) options, she is first asked to take a
pregnancy test. This is, of course, a separate service from an
abortion procedure. The medical provider needs to know for sure that
this woman is pregnant first. Then they can discuss options:
continuing the pregnancy and parenting the child, continuing the
pregnancy and working with adoption services, or having an abortion,
thus terminating the pregnancy. That’s what health providers do
– should they instead, in Allen and Douthat’s world –
ask women to come in with a used pregnancy test? Secondly, Planned
Parenthood does not provide prenatal or childbirth services. Women
who visit Planned Parenthood for a pregnancy test are more than
likely already thinking about abortion as an option.

Secondly, Allen’s
condescending description of a "going home"
packet of contraceptives’ post-abortion reveals her true
feelings about contraception. While I can only suppose that the
medical offices of Allen and Douthat would send women away
post-abortion without the tools to actually prevent unintended
pregnancy again, most health care providers in this country (and all
mainstream medical associations) understand that ensuring women’s
access to contraception and family planning is critical to a healthy
life. It is unquestionable at this point that access to
contraception, globally, improves women’s health and lives,
elevates their status in society and is only beneficial
for the health of a nation. As Guttmacher puts it (PDF),

 

In addition to
improved health, sexual and reproductive health services contribute
to economic growth, societal and gender equity, and democratic
governance.

 

But Douthat uses Allen’s quote as a “gotcha” for Planned
Parenthood. Again, providing women with the means, post abortion, to
prevent unintended pregnancy does not catch Planned Parenthood in
some elaborate scheme – it catches them at doing exactly what
they should be doing, and what we should all be grateful they are
doing: providing women and families with the means to prevent
unintended pregnancy and STIs.

Ultimately Douthat’s
entire article will resonate only with the fiercest of anti-choice
advocates. As has been made clear this election season, and through
more polling than one can count, Americans support ensuring access to
health care for women – even (!) reproductive and sexual health care.
In addition, they oppose piling on even more legal restrictions
based on narrow, fundamentalist religious perspectives. Instead,
Americans are desperate to invest more time, energy and resources
into those programs – both advocacy and service –that
focus on prevention and education. It’s that darn common ground
concept that Douthat doesn’t like. Unfortunately for women,
though it’s most certainly the fuel for our fight, finding
“common ground” in the reproductive health movement is
about much more than “gotchas” and hot-button
ideological accusations. It’s about our health and lives.

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