The conservative case for saving Planned Parenthood

Bring your signs, drums, and comfy walking shoes to a statewide budget rally of historic import at 10 a.m. March 21 at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.

Planned Parenthood’s services make for a smarter healthier society, and we are a better America because of it. That however, does not excuse the fact that Planned Parenthood is an organization with an image problem. For decades they have stubbornly refused to bend and they have allowed their foes to define the debate around them. This has caused great harm to an organization that provides many badly needed services to our community. Planned Parenthood definitely needs to make the case to the country that they are about more than just abortion, but they do not deserve to lose their federal funding.

The House of Representatives recently passed the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (H.R. 1). This bill includes a provision which would eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the Title X Family Planning Program in Fiscal Year 2011.

Currently, the federal government provides grants for family planning through the Public Health Service Act under Title X. This program is the only federal program devoted solely to family planning and is funded through the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill and has been for 40 years. The grants are intended for family planning services, which include contraceptives, infertility services, counseling, physical examinations, STD and HIV prevention education, testing, and referral. The law expressly forbids the use of Title X funds in programs where abortion is considered a method of family planning or where directed pregnancy counseling is supported.

House Republicans have touted H.R.1 as a success because of the huge discretionary spending cuts and many of these cuts are reasoned, researched, badly needed and well placed. Eliminating Planned Parenthood and Title X funding is none of these things. This is a political move of the lowest caliber; one that is motivated by pure hyper-partisan venom. The House Republicans aren’t trying to defund Planned Parenthood because it’s the right thing to do; they are doing it to exact revenge on a group long reviled by the party’s old guard.

“Preventing unwanted pregnancies prevents abortion” says Alison Gaulden, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, a progressive Democrat. “If we learned anything from prohibition, it’s that outlawing alcohol didn’t stop people from drinking. It did, however, make it less safe. The same holds true for abortion. Of course we want it to be safe, legal and rare but the Roe decision affirmed that the 14th amendment protects a woman’s ultimate right to choose. Hobbling our ability to offer the required services that can prevent pregnancy in the first place is going to do nothing but lead to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, and an increase in abortions performed.”

Melissa Clement, President of Nevada Right to Life, doesn’t agree and cites the alternatives. “Planned Parenthood has had a lot of years to spend taxpayer money and we do not feel they have done it effectively.” When pushed with how Nevada could fill the gap in the available services Ms. Clement promoted the various resources available in the area including crisis pregnancy centers in Carson City, Fallon and Reno, as well as maternity homes like Casa Davida, located in Reno. Her solutions, although valuable, still rely heavily on the Health Department and if the Title X funds are eliminated then the department’s caseload could easily grow to unsustainable levels.

The oft forgotten component is that while the funding may evaporate, the need is still very real. Low income women will still need reproductive care, but now they will have to turn to the emergency room to get it. Healthcare costs are a serious issue in this country and no matter how unsavory Planned Parenthood can be with their perceived laser focus on abortion and their abrasive, activist demeanor, they have demonstrated repeatedly that low cost community clinics save the taxpayers lots of money by taking much of the burden off Medicaid. In a time of crumbling state budgets, this fact simply cannot be overlooked.

This issue is especially pertinent here in Nevada, with the majority of the state being rural. “Women are not going to drive four hours to Reno or Las Vegas to get a pap smear. They will simply go without” states Gaulden. “If a problem arises, then they turn to the emergency room for treatment, placing yet another burden on the already overtaxed rural hospitals.”

Conservatives frequently and correctly call for government to reduce control over the private sector and instead, assist in meeting a need through public-private partnerships. Planned Parenthood is a public private partnership of the highest quality. Their overhead is low, they offer an array of services, and unlike other government assisted entities that are fraught with waste, inefficiency and blatant abuse of taxpayer money, Planned Parenthood has repeatedly proven able and willing to take taxpayer money and spend it wisely and transparently, ensuring a maximum return on every dollar spent.

The services provided at publicly funded clinics saved the federal and state governments an estimated $5.1 billion in 2008; services provided at Title X supported clinics accounted for $3.4 billion of that total.

In other words, nationally, every $1 invested in helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies saved $3.74 in Medicaid expenditures that otherwise would have been incurred.

“Birth control costs $35.00 a month. A Medicaid funded birth costs eight grand. You tell me what the fiscally conservative option is.” Gaulden says. “Yes, much of this debate is about abortion, and I have to agree with the pro life movement that women should never be forced to have an abortion. They should never be forced not to, either.”

Planned Parenthood , regardless of commonly held beliefs, is an example of the public and private sectors working hand-in-hand. Their business model is sound, they have proven themselves good stewards of taxpayer money and they lead by example when it comes to transparency. It would be damaging to our society to lose them. Please contact your representatives and tell them to stand firmly on the side of Planned Parenthood. It’s the fiscally conservative thing to do.