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Opinion

Media Dialogue Around Planned Parenthood is Problematic — But Not for the Reasons Conservatives Think

Last week, the New York Times, among other outlets, reported on how Planned Parenthood could decide the fate of the GOP health bill as the senate votes on it this week. Moderate Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are concerned that Planned Parenthood will lose some 40 percent of its funding if the bill is passed, while other Republicans wanted to see the loathsome, “baby-killing” women’s health organization wholly defunded if they’re going to vote for it.

And amidst all this infighting and debate about the organization which is, for whatever reason, so mired in controversy, Planned Parenthood defenders and the media are busy at work trying to put the organization’s work in context. But ultimately, their defenses of the organization may work against conservative arguments and portrayals of Planned Parenthood, but hurt the reproductive justice movement at large by inadvertently contributing to stigma around abortion rights.

Some examples of this —

Just last week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to the senate floor to give a blistering speech about how none of the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives goes to abortions. “I am sick of pointing out again and again that federal dollars do not fund abortion services at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else,” Warren said.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, in a Friday interview with ATTN:, exasperatedly reminded her audience that 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions.

Republican Sen. Collins took to ABC and said of the women’s health organization:

“There are already longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion, so this is not what this debate is about. And Planned Parenthood is an important provider of healthcare services, including family planning and cancer screenings for millions of Americans, particularly women.”

And you’d be hard-pressed to find an article or news segment on the topic of Planned Parenthood in which a journalist neglects to mention how a law called the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding from paying for abortion unless in cases of rape or incest, how a minimum of the services the organization performs are abortions, and many clinics that would be hurt or even shut down by defunding of the organization don’t even offer abortion services.

It’s true that the predominant argument by conservative opponents of the women’s health organization is that some of its clinics offer abortion services, and therefore, despite all the birth control, breast cancer screenings, STI testing, sexual health education, and myriad of other crucial services Planned Parenthood offers, it should receive no funding. And so naturally, it makes sense to rebut this by reminding the organization’s opponents that, actually, Planned Parenthood receives no reimbursement from Medicaid for the abortion services it provides, and only some 3 percent of its services are abortions.

But pushing these facts results in something of a short-term solution — and one with long-term detriments for the reproductive justice movement, at that.

The constant reminder that federal law already prohibits tax dollars from going to abortion validates this law; by falling back on its legitimacy as a shield, Planned Parenthood defenders and journalists trying to contextualize the organization’s work,  are suggesting that because the Hyde amendment is the law, therefore, it’s right.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter that low-income women across the country are barred access from abortion because they can’t afford it. What advocates are inadvertently saying is that it doesn’t matter that the law discriminates against poor women and infringes on their human rights, merely to not offend the personal beliefs of some. It doesn’t matter that the law makes no sense, that no rule preventing tax dollars from funding wars, where born, living humans are killed, exists, and the Hyde amendment exists solely to stigmatize abortion and disenfranchise low-income women.

And whether they intend to or not, that’s the message Planned Parenthood advocates and media are sending as they roll out these facts whenever the organization is embroiled in some new controversy.

It’s the same with reminding everyone that only 3 percent of the services the organization provides are abortions. What about the indie abortion clinics spread out around the country, providing the vast majority of abortion services, where 100 percent of the services they offer are abortions, then? Is there no defending them?

To say that only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work is abortions is to distance the organization from the procedure, as if it’s shameful, and while this claim may help Planned Parenthood in Congress by pandering to conservative legislators’ hatred of abortion, it feeds the stigma that still clings to abortion.

And ultimately, by constantly enabling Planned Parenthood to soak up all of the already measly screen time and dialogue dedicated to reproductive justice in the media, by calling on pro-choice activists to donate to the organization, indie clinics across the country are dealt another blow. These clinics arguably face more stigma than Planned Parenthood does, while receiving a fraction of the donations, advocacy and support.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood are right about something — there’s a problem with the dialogue around the organization and the work it’s doing, but it’s not the problem conservative think it is.

When we talk about Planned Parenthood, we shouldn’t be pandering to the intolerant and ignorant views of its opponents. Rather, we should be questioning why we have to say abortion receives no federal funding, why we have to say abortions make up just 3 percent of the organization’s services, why we have to distance a women’s health organization from a crucial, often life-saving women’s health service in order to defend and validate this organization’s work.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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