If you have been following the most recent budget battle in Washington, you’ll know that we narrowly avoided a costly government shutdown last Friday, based on a battle between Republicans and Democrats over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The holdup was a provision being pushed by Republican’s to cut over $300 million in funding to Planned Parenthood, with much of the rhetoric surrounding the abortion debate. Democrats claimed foul, accusing the Republicans of using the budget to unfairly promote their extremist social agenda.
All this focus on destroying Planned Parenthood got me wondering what the real story is, and how abortion factors into it. I’m a long standing supporter of Planned Parenthood, but in listening to the debate, I was curious about its origins and if it indeed makes financial sense for tax payers to support it.
The organization has its roots in the “American Birth Control League” founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921. Sanger opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn NY. Her organization eventually morphed into Planned Parenthood in 1942.(1) According to their website – “For more than 90 years, Planned Parenthood has promoted a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being, based on respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning.”
Since 1942 they have grown to over 820 clinic locations in the US, providing an array of services to over five million clients a year, 26% of which are under the age of 19.(2)
- Adoption referral to other agencies
- Advocating for state/federal policies that advance health care
- Affordable health care
- Menopause treatments
- Pregnancy options counseling
- Pregnancy testing
- Screening for cancer
- Sexual health education
- STD testing
- Tubal litigations
Planned Parenthood first received Federal funding in 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed into law the Family Planning and Services and Population Research Act. The law enjoyed bipartisan support from liberals who saw contraception as essential to smart family planning and conservatives who saw it as a way to reduce welfare.(3)
Currently, aside from government support, Planned Parenthood also receives 25% of its funding from over 700,000 private donors. Large donors also contribute a substantial portion of the budget such as; The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (earmarked to avoid Abortion Funding), Buffett Foundation (earmarked specifically for Abortions), Ford Foundation, Ted Turner Foundation and others.(4)
Due to all the discussion around abortion, I was surprised to find that only 3% of Planned Parenthoods services are abortions, the remaining 97% of their efforts going towards contraception, cancer screening, sex education and treatment of STD’s.(5) Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of abortions in the country with over 333,278 in 2009. In that same year they have also provided many more additional services (6):
- 7,021 prenatal services
- 977 adoption referrals
- 1,000,000 cervical cancer screenings
- 830,000 breast exams
- 4,000,000 test and treatments for STD’s
I wondered what the majority of Americans believe about abortion. The New York Times and CBS News polls recently asked Americans to name the most important problem facing the country today, less than 1 percent cited abortion. In December, respondents were asked how available abortions should be; 36% said generally available, 40 % said available with limits, and 20% said abortions should not be permitted.(7) So the bottom line; most Americans support the decision to legalize abortion.
So it is no wonder Republicans have shifted their argument that their desire to de-fund Planned Parenthood is not ideological, but rather a budget issue. If that’s true, the next logical questions are; “Does this funding make sense as a social investment? Does it ultimately lower total cost to tax payers with unwanted pregnancies, less STD’s, and improvement of overall health and well being of women in need?”
Considering 26% of Planned Parenthood services are for women under the age of 19, we should explore teen pregnancy. Planned Parenthood dedicates a fair amount of resources to birth control and sex education. In the United States, the annual cost of teen pregnancies from lost tax revenues and public assistance, child healthcare, foster care and involvement with the criminal justice system is estimated at about $7 Billion.(8) Some other statistics:
- Nearly 80% of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare (9)
- 13% of sons of teen mothers are more likely to go to prison (10)
- 22% of daughters to teen mothers are more likely to be teen mothers themselves (11)
- Teens who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to report becoming pregnant or impregnating someone than those who received no sex education (12)
These stats provide serious consideration that sex education and birth control are badly needed to combat the cycle of teen pregnancy and ever increasing welfare rolls. Complicating the abortion discussion is government regulation on funding. While abortion is technically legal in the US, it is not legal for the Federal Government to fund abortions. This is due to the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which primarily affects Medicaid (i.e. low income women). The Hyde Amendment inspired the passage of other similar provisions extending the ban on funding of abortions to a number of other federal health care programs, including the military as well as any Agencies that promote or perform abortions in other countries. (13)
Considering only 3% of Planned Parenthood services are for abortion and no Federal funds currently go towards that, then this debate is really about funding low income women’s reproductive health. Remember the 20% of Americans who do not believe abortion should be legal? I wonder how many of them would oppose the government providing funding for cancer screening, birth control, sex education and STD treatment to the most needy of our population, especially considering that statistics on teenage pregnancies, because that is the real debate. Even Bill and Melinda Gates (devoted Catholics who personally oppose abortion) recognize the need and value of Planned Parenthood for women’s reproductive health and are large donors to the organization through their charitable foundation. They have done so by earmarking their donation for everything but abortion (just as the Federal Government has done).
My point is not to support or oppose abortion, as we can all agree less abortion is a good thing. What I’m having difficulty understanding is the wisdom of defunding an organization that successfully provides birth control and sex education, two things that are proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies and by proxy, abortions. But more importantly also reduces welfare roles as well as improving reproductive health for women and children in need. Government funding of Planned Parenthood makes practical fiscal sense.
Republicans have promised to continue their focus on defunding Planned Parenthood, so I’m sure we’ll hear more on this issue to come. Hopefully the 80% of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose and also some of the 20%, who don’t but have reasonable practical ideas about birth control and family planning, will speak up and get our representatives in government to focus on real budget busting issues.
(9) National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979-1985) in Congressional Budget Office. (1990, September).
(10)A Robin Hood Foundation Special Report On the Costs of Adolescent Childbearing. New York: Robin Hood Foundation
(11)A Robin Hood Foundation Special Report On the Costs of Adolescent Childbearing. New York: Robin Hood Foundation