Earlier this year congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood. The effort failed in the senate, but by just nine votes. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is best known as the largest provider of abortions in the country. They have been involved in lawsuits challenging restrictions on abortions many of which have reached the US Supreme Court. They have won more than they have lost. But Planned Parenthood has fared less well on the state level. The states have now joined the defunding effort, with Texas, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and New Hampshire passing or proposing laws to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. The organization is not taking this lying down. It has fired off legal briefs challenging the defunding and last month won an injunction against the Indiana law. After Roe v Wade made abortions legal in 1973, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment which bars the use of Federal money to pay for abortions. Planned Parenthood launched a legal attack on the amendment but it was upheld by the Court. But not content to let its faith rest with the new wave of conservative legislators, the organization is waging war on a different front. This battle is more stealth than the raging battle over the morality of the services it provides or the legal arguments made in its briefs.
Fighting with words
The new weapon of choice is just words. Here is what Planned Parenthood said about the just concluded Texas legislative session: “Unfortunately, this session will be remembered as the "War on Women" -- when Texas legislators chose to relentlessly attack reproductive rights and access to cost saving family planning services, when Texas women lost access to birth control and breast cancer screenings, ……” Not a solitary mention of the word that is at the heart of the matter, abortion. The aim of the legislature is to cut off funding for abortions, and only abortions. The bill does not attack reproductive rights and does not limit access to family planning services. What it does is limit access to abortion by denying funding for the procedure. Those who oppose the defunding of Planned Parenthood scrupulously avoid any mention of the real issue driving the debate, the use of public funds to pay for abortions and nothing else. Planned Parenthood, which provides numerous other services such as cancer screenings and family planning, can receive Medicaid money for non-abortion-related services. The terms ‘reproductive choice”, “access to health care” and “cancer screenings” are used to frame the debate and scrub any negative connotations of the issue from the minds of the public. It obfuscates the issue and poisons the debate.
Must taxpayers pay the bill?
Reasonable people would not want to deprive women of access to health care or cancer screenings. The underlying issue is medical coverage for abortion for which taxpayers must foot the bill. On this question, the answer must rest with taxpayers who speak through their elected representatives. The question must be answered by each individual with resort to conscience and personal judgment. It means that each citizen has to become his own philosopher. This puts a heavy responsibility on each of us, but for our system to work, freedom to make the decision is essential, freedom to speak out without being tagged with vile monikers, and freedom to keep silent if we so choose. And this freedom must be respected. Planned Parenthood makes no pretense of fairness or objectivity. The rest of us have a greater responsibility.
If the constitution requires the government to guarantee the indigent access to abortion as a protected right, then it must take similar action to secure other liberties that are not fully exercised because of economic circumstances. Freedom of religion is a fundamental liberty, yet no one will suggest that government pay the cost of transportation to Sunday worship so that the poor may enjoy the freedom of religion to the fullest. And during elections people exercise their right to free speech by supporting some candidates and opposing others. But individuals with greater wealth may contribute more. These people are clearly more able to exercise their free speech right than persons of lesser means. Yet no one suggests that the government provide public funds so the less well off can participate in the electoral process at the same level as the wealthy. To argue that the government must provide poor women with equal access to abortion services is ludicrous. The government must tolerate the exercise of the right to choose abortion but it is free to try to persuade women to its position on the issue as long as it does not coerce their choice.
Money and morals local politics
Scores of states and localities refused to do business with corporations which did business with South Africa to express their opposition to Apartheid. Indiana is spending its own money when it enters into contracts. And just like each of us, it can govern its economic activity and determine with whom it will and will not deal, and how public funds should be used. There is nothing new about this. Cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood does not affect its rights or the right of a women to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion. What the people of the state desire must be considered. Even when it is perfectly legitimate to engage in an activity that is legal, states and localities decide whether it will be permitted. More than thirty states specifically allows cities and counties to elect to go dry by public referendum, despite the fact that the sale of liquor is not unlawful, while seventeen states preclude any ban on the sale of alcohol by localities. True, the ability to buy booze does not rise to the level of a constitutional right. My point is that the locality decides.
While it is true that the machinery and power of Indiana is used selectively, in this instance to the detriment of Planned Parenthood, this is nothing new. States have always had the power to help or hurt, by means of taxation and regulation; they can compel or prohibit, take or give. A subsidy of abortion is the most direct benefit. But the government is under no obligation to act on behalf of women and it in no way violates their liberty by refusing to fund services that increase access to abortion. Instead the decision not to fund reflects the government’s chosen position and its attempt at swaying others to its position. This was the case with divestment as it related to Apartheid. There is no government imposed inequality here, because the government is not discriminating among anyone. “If you want to do business with us don’t do business in South Africa.” To be sure has a political component. But there is a political foundation to all that the government does.
The government does not become involved in an activity unless there is some demand through the political process, be it an interest group or a group of like-minded voters banding together. Using public money to pay for abortions is tantamount to endorsing them. The moral objections of those footing the bill must be respected. Most of us if asked for a loan would ask, “What do you need the money for?”And if the answer is to buy drugs or something to which we have a moral objection, we will decline to give or make the loan. Indiana is no different. It has an objection to the use to which its money is being put and it therefore has the right to say no. This is not denying access to health care. A woman is entitled to have an abortion is she chooses but nothing obligates taxpayers to pay for it. The inequality if it exists is not imposed by the government. States that do decide to provide women with some degree of health care must do so in a way that those eligible to receive the services receive it in an impartial manner.The inequality is a fact of life. But the decision not to pay for the procedure applies equally to everyone.