To advocate for, promote, defend or in any way encourage people to have abortions is not why I joined the board of Planned Parenthood (PP) Kentucky (now of Kentucky and Indiana), nor have I met one other board member, employee or supporter affiliated with the organization who has. (This concludes my full disclosure.) I joined the board several years ago when PP was under attack by Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, and I wanted to help, in any small way, defend an organization that is vital to the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
The other underlying inspiration to support PP is that, in my view, they are part of an unfair fight. The perpetual battle in which PP is engaged is against an opponent who does not believe in their right to exist. In other words, from my perspective, while we — PP, pro-choice and pro-right-to-personal-privacy advocates — realize that we have to coexist with anti-abortion crusaders, I am not sure that they think they should have to coexist in a land with us. They believe they should be able to create a society in which their side wins absolutely, at least on this issue.
This latest PP controversy has made me realize that, to a certain extent, they have been very successful.
Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman, now TV host, recently posed the question, “Why is Planned Parenthood the only organization that can get massive amounts of taxpayer funding, when 50 percent of Americans, or maybe 45 percent, are pro-life, the number sort of varies there, and most Americans don’t want their tax dollars supporting abortion.” This perspective demonstrates the fundamental flaw in how we treat the two sides of this issue: The opinions of the 50 to 45 percent of anti-abortion advocates mean more than the 50 to 55 percent on the other side.
First and foremost, we have a federal law in America that bans any federal money from going toward funding abortions — this is known as the Hyde Amendment, which has existed since 1976. If half of America thinks that taxpayer dollars should not go toward abortions in any instance, but the other half of Americans are OK to some extent, why does one side win? Because we treat that side differently, because it is a “sensitive” issue.
Furthermore, the very idea that our government bases, or should base, its decisions on what the majority of Americans think tax dollars should be spent, or not spent, on, nothing would ever be funded. If a list was created showing the percent of Americans who don’t think their taxpayer dollars should be spent on a given issue, Scarborough’s 50 to 45 percent would make funding PP one of the most popular spending items in the federal budget!
I don’t think military spending should be more than 10 times that of education and 25 times that of science. But it’s not really about the issues, it’s about 50 to 45 percent who call a fetus a baby, so their opinion is worth more than mine.
But what the recent PP controversy has made me realize is that America is unnecessarily squeamish when it comes to not only the graphic details of a surgical procedure, but women’s reproductive health issues as a whole, and that this is more about context than it is about morality. I understand why some are mortified and disgusted by the language and topics discussed in the hidden videos. However, these are medical discussions. These are not parenting discussions. These are not finance discussions. These are serious discussions between experts and (pretend) business people.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but these types of conversations — the kind that would make you wince and listen with one eye open — happen thousands of times every day in medical centers, research labs, offices, sales meetings and even in classroom hallways. Medically speaking, the conversations being had were no different than a cardiologist discussing defibrillators with a medical device sales person or a pharmaceutical sales person discussing drugs with a researcher.
So before snapping judgement on people who were baited into having medical conversations, try to resist the temptation to conflate a substantive, medical, scientific research discussion, with one of morality because of its context. These videos are about context, not substance. And by all means, Congress should investigate PP and we should scrutinize their practices. We should all take a fresh look at how we fund and facilitate responsible scientific research. But also, realize that nothing in these videos, or in any PP clinic in this country, changes the fact that anti-abortion advocates must live in a society with the rest of us, who equally value the rights of women to access reasonable, primary health and reproductive services, and privacy.