The Politics of Planned Parenthood
On November 9th, Donald Trump officially became the newest President-elect of the United States. With this title bestowed upon him, the possibility of significant change regarding women’s health and reproductive rights has become a nearly instantaneous and frightening reality for many. The ethicality of women’s reproductive rights has been a topic of constant divide between liberals and conservatives, yet Trump takes on a position which largely defies current policy. Since the beginning of his campaign in June 2015, Trump has been transparent about his opinions regarding women’s health. If he is successful in carrying out legislation supporting his views, the landscape of women’s rights would be significantly altered, affecting millions of women nationwide. One major area of change, under Trump’s policy, would be in regard to Planned Parenthood, whereby Planned Parenthood would be defunded entirely so long as it continues to provide abortions.1,2,3
Planned Parenthood, founded 100 years ago as of October, provides health services, educates the public about sexual and reproductive health, and advocates for the advancement of women’s rights and increased access to reproductive healthcare, among other services.4 This means that the nonprofit is of great benefit to many women who rely upon it for access to affordable reproductive services as well as knowledge about their own health and rights. In fact, Planned Parenthood provides health care for an estimated 2.5 million people every year, with nearly 650 health centers serving citizens nationwide.4 Still, while Planned Parenthood offers many invaluable services to women, one of its services, abortion, has caused a huge rift within the political and social realm of the United States, as many believe abortion to be ethically wrong. Trump has taken such a stance against abortion through his platform, and while the issue of abortion has no clear cut answer, it is evident that the extreme counterpoint Trump offers to current, more liberal policy regarding women’s health is one that will be detrimental to the progression of women’s reproductive rights and to health services for women nationwide.
Trump has promised voters that he will defund Planned Parenthood “as long as they continue to perform abortions,” despite also commenting upon the value of Planned Parenthood as an organization;1,2 Trump’s primary aim in defunding the nonprofit thus appears to be to executing his pro-life stance and pushing toward more restriction on abortion.5 However, Trump’s views are far from conducive to the needs of many women; his promises threaten the rights of women in regard to sexual health and could lead to major difficulties for women in accessing affordable treatment for their health needs. Planned Parenthood has been funded by the federal government since Richard Nixon approved the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act, under which Title X provides funding for family planning services.6,7 Last year, Planned Parenthood received roughly $500 million in federal funding.3 Federal funding of Planned Parenthood has thus helped to break down the barrier of economic condition, so that all women can receive affordable access to reproductive and sexual health services. Therefore, women who do not have health insurance can received care at a reduced rate or, in some cases, for free;6 in defunding Planned Parenthood as a combatant to abortions, Trump would take away critical services from women who need them most.
Planned Parenthood is not only crucial to providing affordable care, but to reaching an enormous range of people; Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president noted, for instance, that 1 in 5 women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic at some point in their lives, and that for half of patients who come to a clinic, that will be their only visit to a doctor for the entire year.4,7 Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of reproductive services in the United States,including abortions.7 However, abortions make up a very small minority of Planned Parenthood's services, clocking in at 3% of cases.4 Meanwhile, 31% of Planned Parenthood’s services are for contraception, 45% for STD screening and treatment, and 7% for cancer screenings and prevention.4 Defunding Planned Parenthood means eliminating these resources, resources that many women depend upon. Consequently, perhaps we should also ask, is it ethically sound for a government to withhold health services from individuals in order to achieve a larger goal?
Although Planned Parenthood, as Trump even admits, is an incredibly valuable resource to many women, no matter how small the percentage is in comparison to its other services, Planned Parenthood still provides abortions, which is where the primary ethical dilemma lies.2 Trump’s personal pro-life stance extends beyond his intention to defund Planned Parenthood; in the final Presidential Debate, Trump commented that he would appoint Justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, hoping to consequently make the legality of abortion a state by state issue.1 Additionally, Trump stated earlier in 2016 that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who receive illegal abortions, sparking backlash from women across the country.1,2,3,5 Meanwhile, Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence, has supported and signed some of the most extreme anti-abortion laws in the country.3 However, no matter how one views abortions or defunding Planned Parenthood to discourage abortions, Planned Parenthood helps to prevent around 579,000 unplanned pregnancies a year through birth control and education services.4 Without Planned Parenthood, many individuals will no longer be able to feasibly afford contraception, meaning the rate of unplanned pregnancies will likely increase. In this process, ironically, the demand for abortions would increase due to the increase in unplanned pregnancies, meaning defunding Planned Parenthood would not only harm women, but would only exasperate the issue of abortion and cause people to seek abortions in unsafe environments. In this sense, Planned Parenthood actually helps to reduce abortions, and the abortions it does provide are in a regulated, safe environment, keeping women from the danger of risky, illegal abortions that they might pursue anyways if abortion were made illegal or became more restricted.
So, does the government have a moral responsibility in reproductive health legislation? Trump’s platform demonstrates the anxiety and devastation that defunding Planned Parenthood for an alleged moral cause will create for millions of women around the United States. The intersectionality of the political realm and bioethical considerations is murky at best, but analyzing the notion of defunding Planned Parenthood strictly in terms of the effects it would have on women, government involvement provides a severe limitation to women’s rights, which in and of itself is ethically unjust. Yes, Planned Parenthood provides around 324,000 abortions per year, but it also provides 4.2 million tests and treatments for STDs.4 To lose all the services Planned Parenthood offers means that many women will no longer have access to preventative healthcare in the form of contraception, STD treatment, and cancer screenings through the organization. While women can obtain these services elsewhere, Planned Parenthood is a leading provider in women’s health, so crippling its budget could introduce added inconvenience and cost for women seeking reproductive services. Defunding Planned Parenthood would thus cause women who depend on its services to suffer greatly: with potentially no other place to turn for affordable reproductive healthcare, unintended pregnancies are likely to rise, as will the number of women seeking abortions because of such pregnancy. Furthermore, if Planned Parenthood can no longer legally provide abortions, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned for instance, a woman will have very little say in her own sexual and reproductive health.
Deciding to get an abortion can be one of the hardest things a woman may do in her adult life, and involving the government in such a personal matter is not the solution. A just-fertilized egg has no emotions, can feel no pain, and will remain that way for a long time in its development. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, "fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester," as the area of the brain responsible for pain is not fully formed until around the 28th week of pregnancy.8 On the other hand, a woman who is faced with the contemplation of an abortion does feel physically and, even more, emotionally, and having even more restrictions on women’s reproductive health jeopardizes the quality of care for women everywhere and threatens to reverse all the progress that has been made regarding women’s reproductive rights. What politicians often neglect, in placing so much value on the life of an unborn child, is the wellbeing of the mother, which should, in actuality, be the primary and most important consideration. If a woman is forced to have her child rather than being give the option of getting an abortion, this means placing more value on the life of an unfeeling fetus than on the happiness and prosperity of a woman, which in and of itself is ethically wrong. Furthermore, threatening to defund an organization which provides crucial resources to women who by and large are not seeking abortions would not only pose a severe limitation to women’s rights, but would likely only aggravate the issue of abortions. Rather than attempting to shut down women’s rights via defunding Planned Parenthood, our government should seek to protect women, not isolate them in the name of fetuses who have no capacity for life outside the womb.
Zarya, Valentina. “This Is What Women Can Expect From a Donald Trump Presidency.” Fortune. Published November 10, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/11/10/donald-trump-win-women/.
Harrington, Rebecca and Sheth, Sonam. “Here's where Trump stands on abortion and other women's health issues.” Business Insider. Published November 9, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-abortion-womens-health-platforms-positions-2016-11.
Brophy Marcus, Mary. “What a Trump presidency could mean for Planned Parenthood and women's health.” CBS News. Published November 9, 2016. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-donald-trump-presidency-could-mean-for-planned-parenthood-womens-health/.
“Who We Are.” Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are.
“Donald Trump on Reproductive Rights and Women’s Equality.” NARAL. http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/elections/2016/donald-trump-abortion.html.
“About Our Fees.” Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-central-western-new-york/patient-resources/paying-your-health-care/about-our-fees.
Rovner, Julie. “Planned Parenthood: A Thorn In Abortion Foes' Sides.” NPR. Published April 13, 2011. http://www.npr.org/2011/04/13/135354952/planned-parenthood-makes-abortion-foes-see-red.
Barnes, Zahra. “14 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Abortion.” SELF. Published June 19, 2016. http://www.self.com/story/14-abortion-facts.