The Fate of Planned Parenthood: It Isn’t Just About Abortion April 20, 2011

In the last two weeks votes were taken on whether Title X should continue to fund Planned Parenthood’s work in pregnancy prevention, prenatal care, and education.  No Federal money, and to my knowledge no state money, funds Planned Parenthood’s abortion work directly.  If anything, abortions, though only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s work, have the reputation of being a profit center for them, so that they hardly need direct subsidy in that area!  But on ethical grounds I would like to take a stand. Government money should not be funneled through any organization that either performs abortions – even 3% – or vigorously advocates for abortion as a civil right for minors or adults, as they in fact do.  It is singularly unfortunate that Planned Parenthood is currently the main provider of testing and prenatal care for the urban poor.  If we do bite the bullet and cut them off, as we should, are we ready to fill that gap?  Can we create new charitable institutions to cover the gap?

And Planned Parenthood’s assault on traditional values is not just about abortion.  It opposes historical sexual ethics and parental authority.  I will concede that some of the things they do may be preventing abortions – maybe preventing more than they actually perform.  The problem is, you can lead young men and women to condoms and diaphragms [an evil, but not the moral equivalent of murder] but to get young people to put them on you have to have better incentives.

First of all, contraceptive devices should not be given out free.  At a subsidized price, maybe, but things that are given out free are not valued.  Wycliffe Bible Translators has frequent occasion to release New Testaments in languages spoken by maybe a thousand people or less.  These languages – especially if they are highly tonal – often look in print more like chemical formulas for a miracle drug than they do most Western languages; I have seen them.  The cost of the book, spread out over a potential readership of 1000, is perhaps $50 a volume; tribespeople cannot afford that, but they are asked to pay $2, a considerable sum for them, so that the book will be worth something to them.

Furthermore, it seems to me that if abortion were illegal under most circumstances – or if we even had a parental notification or consent law, as many states do – the incentive to use ‘protections would be a lot stronger.  Almost 50 years ago, in the first beginnings of the Sexual Revolution, I remember this joke from Readers Digest, I think:

What’s white and scares teenagers?

The stork.

Well, you can give kids all the facts you want, but I think until the stork starts to be really scary to teenagers again, all the information in the world, nor the moralizing whether Christian or neopagan, is going to of itself discourage teenage pregnancy.

Of course I hold that abstinence is ethically preferable.  Those parents who do not think it reasonable to expect abstinence of their teenage children should speak up and say what they want and need and also respect parents of different views.  [Those who expect abstinence of their own children, but not of young people of color, are frankly racist, whether they admit it or not.]  A government school system may not be in a good position to say “Thou shalt not” unless it is a strong community consensus. [Because it’s a matter of ethics, not religion, it is no more inherently unconstitutional to promote abstinence from premarital sex in a government school than it is to promote abstinence from gang violence, cheating on tests, etc.  Just don’t quote the Bible or other religious texts as your authority.]

Abstinence also has a more perfect record than condoms or the pill in protecting against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and is less damaging emotionally than ‘safe’ promiscuity, especially to women.  These are facts, and can be told.  I think condoms should be easy for adolescents to get hold of, though not for free; at the same time it would not be bad if it were against the law for adolescents to possess them, if such a regulation worked like “forbidden fruit.”  [There is not necessarily any contradiction here.  Both when I was a teenager and now, teenagers were pretty good at getting their hands on things they weren’t supposed to have.  If the incentives are right, that will be true of condoms as well.]  Adult authorities in the school should not be selling or giving condoms or other devices, except maybe as a fundraiser!!  [Sarcasm on my part.]  The least offensive part of Planned Parenthood’s high school campus work, to me, would be their ‘peer counselor’ program.  Adult authorities, therefore, are not validating sexual activity, and the kids can go to their peers for support and paraphernalia in their sexual activity just as they already do for their alcohol and recreational drugs – which no one ever proposes that the school authorities hand out!

In other words, I would be has happy as anyone to see Planned Parenthood not get any government money – but the situation is more complex, and the problem with Planned Parenthood is more complex, than can be summed up in the single issue of abortion.  There is more at stake.