Update: Since this article was published, Planned Parenthood has been in the news even more, thanks to the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) -- the Senate Republicans' Obamacare replacement -- defunding the organization for a year. The BCRA has cast Planned Parenthood's future into further doubt.
Whew, the election is over and now – like most years – people are done talking about politics again for the next four years.
Not this time. Protests and marches, from the Women’s March to the March for Life to the planned March for Science, have shown that people have taken a renewed interest in what’s going on in the world. Everything is up for grabs: immigration, climate change, health insurance, student loans.
Planned Parenthood is one of the institutions caught in the crosshairs. People on both sides of the aisle feel strongly about it; Democrats say it offers valuable health services the many (especially underprivileged) people, while Republicans believe it goes against pro-life morals by offering abortion services.
Planned Parenthood is partially supported by taxes, and defunding is a real possibility. But why do people want to take away this funding, and what could the repercussions be?
Why is there controversy over Planned Parenthood?
Okay, so maybe you know the basics of Planned Parenthood and why people don’t like it (hint: it’s the abortions), but you may still be wondering what politics has to do with it.
First, a look at the organization’s history: Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1916. While abortion is its most hot-button service, and STD tests and contraceptives are its most plentiful, Planned Parenthood provides a ton of other services to the community, from education to health screenings to counseling to STD treatment, for both men and women. A majority of its clients are low-income (which is something that comes into the debate about its future. We’ll get to that in a bit).
But the controversy is really centered around abortion services. Many people in the country are very against it. You might have seen videos released in 2015 that vilified the organization; the videos were later revealed to be heavily edited, but the general sentiment hasn’t changed: People don’t want their tax dollars going toward abortions.
Only 3% of health services provided by Planned Parenthood are abortions (some estimates have this higher, but still only top out at 12%), and federal money doesn’t go toward that specific service, instead being used for many of the other services that Planned Parenthood supports. But some people don’t want any of their taxpayer dollars going toward an institution that provides abortions, even if that money isn’t directly used for it.
About a third of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from the federal government. That means that any changes to the money it receives will have a big impact on the services it can offer – and a huge ripple effect across the country.
Why Planned Parenthood’s future is in doubt
GOP members have been trying to find ways to defund Planned Parenthood for a while. Now, though, is the perfect storm of events that could make this reality more likely. The first was complete control of the executive branch; Republicans are in power in the Presidency and both houses of Congress. The second was the fight to repeal Obamacare, a fight in which Planned Parenthood is caught up.
In case you haven’t heard, Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, is more or less on the chopping block. Paul Ryan has said that "Republicans will move to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the process they are using early this year to dismantle Obamacare." And, in a leaked repeal package, they want to do exactly that. Tom Price, President Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, already has an Obamacare replacement bill, and it "prevents federal funds from going to health-care plans that cover abortions."
And the changes didn’t have to wait for an official replacement bill to start: Trump signed an executive order in late January that reinstated a "global gag rule" that prevents giving money to foreign nonprofits that provide abortions. As with American nonprofits, taxpayer money given to foreign nonprofits does not directly fund abortions, but – as with American nonprofits – people don’t want their money being used in any way to support these groups.
The impact of defunding Planned Parenthood
So what is the real impact of defunding Planned Parenthood? It may cut down on the number of abortions, like critics want, but Planned Parenthood supporters argue that it will just make the process of getting an abortion more unsafe by taking easy access away from those who need it.
Of course, this would also take away easy access to many of the other services that Planned Parenthood offers. An argument for defunding Planned Parenthood is that patients can just go elsewhere for services, like health departments or health centers. However, studies have shown that Planned Parenthood centers often provide the only easy access to reproductive health services, and they disproportionately serve their communities even when there are other choices available.
And then there are the financial implications of defunding Planned Parenthood. Seventy-five percent of the federal dollars that Planned Parenthood receives is due to Medicaid reimbursement. It’s estimated that direct spending by the federal government would increase by $130 million over the next decade, and Medicaid spending would increase by $650 million in that same time period thanks to the cost of raising a child and, since many low-income people use Planned Parenthood services, the social safety net costs that would have to be provided.
Of course, many GOP members also support block granting Medicaid – giving a set amount of money to states rather than match dollar-for-dollar spending, which critics say will force states to scale back services – so maybe they see the Medicaid impact as not being their problem regardless.
Regardless of how you feel about Planned Parenthood, it’s important to understand the widespread impact that defunding the group will have. It’s not a given yet – a majority of Americans oppose defunding, and at least two Republican Senators are not in favor (which, if it’s bundled into an Obamacare repeal, makes that an even more precarious proposition as a majority vote would be needed) – it’s a very real possibility that could have very real consequences.