The world needs Planned Parenthood. The supporters of Planned Parenthood (PP) repeatedly assure us of this fact. With every gruesome video released demonstrating the callous disregard for the lives destroyed through abortion, every legitimate question raised on whether PP profits from the remains of aborted human fetuses, and no matter how often PP seems to be caught dancing on the edges of the law we are assured that such actions are a small part of a larger enterprise that is desperately needed. You can’t throw out all the good with the very little bad because the world needs PP.
This raises a legitimate question, who actually needs PP? They don’t do mammograms, all of the non-abortion related services can easily be supplied by other medical clinics (which far outnumber PP clinics already), and the funding that makes these services available to low income groups can be diverted elsewhere to accomplish the same exact goals. What medical care is it that PP offers that cannot be duplicated elsewhere?
One defender told me that they provide affordable or free STI and STD testing and limited treatment. Again, they are not alone on that front. I serve on the board of directors for a pregnancy center that has expanded their services as a medical clinic under the direction of a licensed physician to offer STI and STD testing and limited treatment. They give all of these services away for free precisely so that the people in our community will not feel that they must go to Planned Parenthood to attain them and do so without taking a single penny of financial contribution from the U.S. government.
Access to contraception is not a difficult thing to manage without PP. New York City runs a condom project that provides condoms to any business or organization that wants to operate as a location for people to walk in off the street and have access to free condoms. I searched for the sites (here hit the plus sign on condoms in the column on the left) in Manhattan alone and was offered 27 pages of results, each page holding ten locations, including clinics, bars, tattoo parlors, beauty salons, barber shops, banks, etc. Clearly PP is not necessary to distribute free condoms. Given the large numbers of medical clinics on this list it is hard to imagine why anyone couldn’t just as easily go to one of those numerous clinics for their other contraception needs.
In fact, the only thing that I know for certain that PP does more than anyone else in the Unites States is perform abortions. As near as I can tell, when Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, and other Democratic Senators take to the floor and declare the need for PP they are talking about the need for abortion. When actress Kerry Washington tweets about repro rights and feminism she is tweeting about abortion. Though they are as afraid of saying the word abortion as the characters in the Harry Potter series are of saying Voldemort, they are almost always talking about the Procedure That Must Not Be Named.
This isn’t a new argument and it even has some gravitas to it offered by no less than the Supreme Court. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v Casey (1992) Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter wrote in the majority decision:
The Roe rule's limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed.
Here is the argument in all of its glory. Women have learned to make sexual choices with the knowledge that should the foreseeable consequence of pregnancy occur they have the ability to end the life of their unborn child without either the pregnancy or that child impacting their lives or their professions. Abortion empowers a certain way of living while affirming a certain personal identity and role in society. In order for those sexual ethics to continue and those ideas to prosper, abortion must remain legal. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider therefore we need Planned Parenthood.
Utterly absent from this is any discussion on what exactly is the moral status of the lives we see torn apart in these videos. When Kerry Washington declares “AMEN!” on Twitter to the defeat of the effort to defund PP, she doesn’t explain why the torn apart nascent human bodies being rummaged through for usable parts don’t deserve her passionate advocacy. When Elizabeth Warren jokes about Republicans falling down and hitting their heads and thinking it is 1950 or 1890 she doesn’t explain why the more than 300,000 lives destroyed by PP annually haven’t earned the services of her unfettered snark. Even if we granted that PP and abortion have contributed to making some great society, where is the argument that explains what the unborn are and that we are justified building this society on their corpses?
Eric Metaxas shares an exchange in his book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Henry Dundas suggests that, rather than abolition, the focus ought to be more moderate. They should look to regulate slavery by putting into place protections and assurances of ethical treatment of the slaves rather than push for radical changes that may destabilize their entire way of life. Charles James Fox replied eloquently:
“I believe [the slave trade] to be impolitic… I know it to be inhuman. I am certain it is unjust. I find it so inhuman and unjust, that if the colonies cannot be cultivated without it, they ought not to be cultivated at all…”
If the unborn are human in the same way that you and I are, if they matter and we have the same basic human obligations to them as we do any other uncontroversial member of the human family, then abortion is a great evil. If they are fully human then any institution, self-belief, system of sexual ethics, or way of life that is dependent upon the freedom to kill them isn’t worthy to continue to exist. PP defenders need to stop dancing around the issue and answer the question. What are the unborn? If they are human life that doesn't matter, then make your case that we are justified in tearing them to pieces and divvying up the leftover human body parts. If Planned Parenthood is truly essential to our public good because of their commitment to abortion, then just admit that you are arguing that our way of life in some way depends on federal funding for an institution that helps build this great society on the willful destruction of the next generation. We are unapologetically a culture of death.
They must not be surprised, though, when this fight doesn’t go away. However much indignation and incivility Elizabeth Warren can muster, it will not shame those committed to an inclusive view of human value into silence. The best arguments confirm what the horrified reaction of the public to these videos corroborates, the unborn are full members of the human family and their destruction and medical exploitation is inhuman and unjust. (here, here, here, here, here, here) Any and all institutions built on this injustice must fall. I return again to Mr. Fox and how he ended his response to the call to compromise:
“As long as I have a voice to speak, this question shall never be at rest… and if I and my friends should die before they have attained their glorious object, I hope there will never be wanting men alive to do their duty, who will continue to labour till the evil shall be wholly done away.”