Planned Parenthood needs bipartisanship

“Would you like to support a woman’s right to choose?” This was the question posed to me by an activist while walking home one sunny afternoon several years ago. Being a happy-go-lucky pro-choice liberal, I graciously donated several dollars to the cause. The activist was from  Planned Parenthood, an organization that has achieved the ultimate status of polarization. Those who support the group are overwhelmingly Democrats and those who protest the group are frequently Republicans. But this is hardly surprising considering the divisive rhetoric stemming from both sides.

Many Republicans, including Carly Fiorina, have referenced the Planned Parenthood videos, which allegedly exposed a black market for selling aborted fetuses. These videos were carefully vetted by the media and found to be fabricated. Nevertheless, Fiorina continued to use them as a key talking point in her rallies. But the deception does not end there, as the entire Republican presidential lineup has greatly exaggerated Planned Parenthood’s involvement in performing abortions. The fact is that only 3% of Planned Parenthood visits are abortion-related. The organization’s primary functions are STD/STI and cancer screenings. But if you listened to the Republican debate, you would be led to believe otherwise. So why have Republicans exaggerated the issue? The answer is not as simple as it initially appears to be.

Many argue that this conflict illustrates a hostile takeover of the Republican Party by Evangelicals and hard-line Christians. I agree that the right’s contempt for secular values is a serious concern, but I urge liberals to look farther than that to explain the outrage over Planned Parenthood.

First, one must understand that Planned Parenthood is not only a healthcare provider. It is a political body that endorses politicians on both the national and local level. At Democratic party rallies, posters can be seen everywhere encouraging voters to “Stand with Planned Parenthood,” and Democratic politicians often rail against Republican opposition to the organization.  But in their defense of Planned Parenthood, Democrats often conflate the issue of abortion with the separate issue of defunding the organization. By doing so, Democrats have made it easy for the right to establish Planned Parenthood as the preeminent symbol of abortion. And this definition has forced people who would otherwise be supportive of the organization to retreat behind a shield of partisanship.

Clearly, this division is beneficial to no one. In Texas, Planned Parenthood was defunded and a study found that more low-income women are having babies because they no longer have access to birth control. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich is about to sign a bill that will likely lead to the same catastrophic outcome.

Therefore, I contend that several steps must be taken to alleviate the partisanship characterized by Planned Parenthood. First, Planned Parenthood should spin off its political activist wing (known as the Planned Parenthood Action Fund) to focus on simply providing healthcare within the full extent of the law. Since Planned Parenthood still receives millions of dollars worth of funding from state and federal governments, it should act like an organization that operates purely for the sake of public good. Political activism should be left to activist groups operating as separate entities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Democrats must stop using Planned Parenthood as a tool to score easy political points, for the issue of women’s health is far too important to be gambled away by shortsighted politicians. In the words of Michelle Obama: “Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women.”

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