The recent rule issuance by the Trump administration has rekindled hopes and fears (depending on who you ask) about abortion restrictions, and specifically about Planned Parenthood.
Part of the final rule on Title X funds includes:
…none of the funds appropriated for Title X may be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning and related statutory requirements. In addition, OPA amends the Title X regulations to clarify grantee responsibilities to provide a broad range of family planning methods and services; to remove the requirements for nondirectiveOffice for Population Affairs
abortion counseling and referral; to prohibit referral for abortion…
Let’s set aside – for a moment – that the US Government has an “Office for Population Affairs” in the first place. The fact is that this seems, on its surface, like a solid win for the pro-life movement. Unfortunately for them, it is not.
The U.S. government was run by the Republicans from 2016 through 2018. During that time, had they wished, they could have removed federal funding from Planned Parenthood, by passing legislation to that effect. They did not wish to do so for fear of political retribution.
It’s probable that removing funding in a way that made it firm against legal challenges would have prevented them from targeting Planned Parenthood directly; instead, they may have needed to pull funding from other medical clinics. That could have created political vulnerability.
It’s probable that abortion advocates would have found an ectopic pregnancy death or other situation that could have been avoided and tarred the Republicans with it during the 2018 election cycle, in the same way that pro-life groups use examples of the most callous infanticides as representative of all abortions. This is standard political action, and the Republicans, feeling vulnerable in the House, did not hand the Democrats that stick with which to beat them.
Ultimately, though, the promise – that the Republicans would work on behalf of the pro-life side of their base – was left in the hands of the courts, specifically the Supreme Court, where Justice Brett Kavanaugh recently found in favor of Planned Parenthood as reported by Politico.
This was not accidental. Kavanaugh’s milquetoast position on abortion was fairly evident based on his history, and had been whitewashed by presenting him as a staunchly religious figure. The Republican leadership had every opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood, and they specifically chose not to do so.
With that established, the reason for the modifying rule comes into question. It is attempting to qualify the the use of funds which have already been provided by Congress. This is very unlikely to pass Constitutional muster, particularly at a time where the courts are focused on the issue of Presidential repatriation of funds under the auspices of a national emergency.
If it’s not likely to survive a court challenge, the reason for it is purely political. This is an attempt to create an issue for the Republicans – and, simultaneously, for the Democrats – to run on in 2020. Republicans are calculating that it gives them boosts on two fronts – “pro-life” and “fiscal responsibility” while the Democrats only get a boost to their “pro-choice” support.
It’s all smoke and mirrors, however, because it isn’t designed to have any concrete effect. That chance was there, and it was ignored. This is designed to sound strong while diverting attention from the fact that the Republicans intentionally continued to fully fund Planned Parenthood during the entire time they held the House, the Senate and the Presidency.
Then there’s the other point. Planned Parenthood would not be ruined even if the funding were pulled.
Planned Parenthood is a multi-billion dollar corporation. It takes in roughly a third of its annual revenue through government grants and programs – both on the federal and on the state level. Removing federal funding would absolutely constitute a significant economic hit to the company, but they could absorb it with some downsizing and a price increase for their billed services. Moreover, if federal funding is pulled the likely result would be a massive press for private donations to keep the “beleaguered” company “afloat”… because a great many of its supporters have been convinced that the mega-corporation is effectively a local non-profit, always on the brink of closing its doors.
Now, let’s circle back to the Office for Population Affairs.
The obvious response here is a short diatribe about the unnecessary growth and spending in government. In fact, it’s so obvious that I’m going to ignore that, and focus instead on something else: this is a regulation.
If the pro-life people truly want Planned Parenthood to stop providing abortions, they need to convince people to stop having them. That is not going to come about by empowering the government to force people to act in “pro-life” ways, any more than forcing people to provide tax money for abortions has convinced everyone that abortion is moral.
The answer here is not to look to any organization – government or giant corporation – to force its will upon the people. The answer is to talk amongst ourselves, respectfully, and try to convince others of the validity of our various positions. If you truly have a better argument and you are able to have it heard, minds will be changed.