Although government shutdowns are not a new phenomenon, they are certainly undesirable for all parties involved. Hundreds of thousands of government employees are furloughed and citizens are unable to obtain services they desire. Not to mention the blame placed on those politically responsible for the shutdown. As yet another federal government funding battle looms in Washington, Congressional Republicans might just make this go-around a little trickier for themselves.
Back in July, a controversial undercover video of a discussion with Planned Parenthood senior director of medical research, Deborah Nucatola, first surfaced. The now infamous video contained a conversation about the donation of fetal tissue between Nucatola and two anti-abortion activists posing employees of a biotech firm. Immediately following the video's release, the anti-abortion fire was stoked once again. Politicians on both sides of the aisle quickly began to address the issue with Democrats mainly defending the organization, while most Republicans called for investigations and even defunding. Thus far, state level investigations in 5 states have discovered zero evidence of violation of state or federal law.
Now, it is the push for defunding Planned Parenthood that has made the last minute budget negotiations a bit more complicated. Last week, the House passed H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015. Allow this bill does not directly address the issue of the donation of fetal tissue; it would place a moratorium on federal funding for Planned Parenthood. No overall decrease in federal funding would occur, but it instead funds previously allotted for Planned Parenthood would be directed to other healthcare providers. One hope for some Republican leaders and the Democrats is that this vote will deter them from attempting to attach a related measure to an upcoming funding bill. On the Senate side, the leadership employed similar tactics by allowing a vote today on legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and extended federal government funding at current levels until December 11th. With several Senate Republicans crossing party lines, this plan failed at the procedural level, but allowed the majority of Senate Republicans to express their displeasure at the behavior of Planned Parenthood. Here's to hoping that because Republicans opposed to Planned Parenthood have had a chance to display their position on the issue they will now allow a clean spending bill to pass.
However, despite the increased optimism of averting a government shutdown, the defunding of Planned Parenthood is a serious issue that must be evaluated carefully considering it has occurred at the state level and has frequently been promoted by many Republicans even prior to the most recent video fiasco.
First, it must be noted that funding for Planned Parenthood comes from a variety of sources, not just the federal government. While federal funding from Medicaid and Title X accounts for 41% of funds at $528.4 million, private contributions account for 30% at $391.8 million, and non-government health services provide 23% at 305.3 million. Additionally, the claims by some on the right of any wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood are yet to be substantiated. Yet, the family planning services provided by the organization are numerous and well documented. Planned Parenthood spends 42% of their funding on testing and treatment for STDs and STIs, 34% on providing contraception care, 11% on women's health services such as pregnancy tests and prenatal care, and 9 percent on cancer screenings and prevention. Only 3% is spent on abortion services.
Regardless of an individual's views on abortion and Planned Parenthood's practices, let's take a look at the economic impact of defunding the organization. Spending public money on family planning services is estimated to over $7 for every dollar spent. A lack of public funding for family planning would have resulted in two million unintended pregnancies and around 700,000 abortions in 2013. Based on those numbers, eliminating funding would increase the number of abortions and essentially undermine the Republican goal of preventing them. As long as abortions are legal and patients have unintended pregnancies, there will be providers willing to perform them. By providing contraceptive care to those in need, Planned Parenthood actually helps those on the right achieve their goal of preventing abortions. In sum, the attempt of Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood is ill-conceived and fails not only their party, but the American people.