Due to the increasing recognition of women’s liberties, there has been an increase in the number of institutions aimed at safeguarding these rights. These institutions include Planned Parenthood, which is committed to the promotion of reproductive health. Moreover, with the legalization of abortion, following the ruling in Roe v.
Wade, the organization has expanded its array of services to support women’s right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. However, political and economic attacks launched by conservative social and political groups have undermined the organization’s access to federal funds and subsequently, its capability to offer a broad gamut of quality, evidence-based, and comprehensive reproductive health solutions.
Roe v. Wade (1973) advanced the recognition of women’s right to control their reproductive destiny. The Supreme Court’s ruling, in the case, awarded women the right to opt to terminate their pregnancies (Primrose, 2012). Later decisions at the state and federal levels upheld this ruling. For instance, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the court held that women’s ability to control their reproductive lives was established (Primrose, 2012). These judgments suggest that in the post-Roe v. Wade period, there is a surge in the acceptance of Planned Parenthood. However, the legislative attacks aimed at the organization indicate that the pro-choice ruling enhanced the institution’s susceptibility to opposition from pro-life groups.
Planned Parenthood is one of the largest nonprofit providers of reproductive health services in the country. In addition to providing preventive care, the organization also offers a myriad of necessary health services (Primrose, 2012). However, those opposed to the organization often neglect to recognize the broad gamut of care services provided by the organization and choose to focus on the perceived role of the organization in promoting moral corruption and access to on-demand abortions. The argument presented by conservative political leaders demonstrate this motivation.
The justifications for the opposition to Planned Parenthood demonstrate that different factors, including religious reasons, underpin the current attacks on Planned Parenthood.
Underpinning cultural factors also sustain and enhance the validity of conservative political views. According to Primrose (2012), the fact that Planned Parenthood offers services that focus on contraception, abortion, and sex provides fonder that the organization’s opponents use to undermine the brand equity and the significance of the organization. In particular, the range of services that Planned Parenthood provides increase its vulnerability to measures aimed at regulating sex. As noted by Harold Southerland, unlike its European counterpart, the American society exemplifies significant levels of sexual repression (as cited by Primrose, 2012). Therefore, the focus on sexual health and reproduction mobilizes actions aimed at regulating sex. This correlation accounts for the significant opposition that the organization faces because of the pervasive misconception that it is an abortion factory that promotes premarital sex.
The attacks on the organization, precipitated by conservative leaders, have had multiple adverse impacts on Planned Parenthood. One of the most significant effects is the underfunding of the institution. Notably, in 2011, legislatures introduced a bill in the House of Representatives whose provisions supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood and cut Title X (Primrose, 2012). At the time, the lawmakers in favor of the proposed law argued that it offered a means for reducing government expenditure. However, the support advanced in favor of the bill after its introduction suggest that anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment underpinned it. The possibility that this measure seeks to counteract failed attempts aimed at reverting Roe v. Wade further illustrates the role of anti-choice politics in undermining the capacity of Planned Parenthood to offer necessary services (Primrose, 2012).
This motivation is also apparent in the latest attempt aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act. If successful, this measure will eliminate Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to receive Medicaid reimbursements and limit its access to federal family-planning funds (Ciccariello, 2017). Current estimates show that prohibiting access to these funds will result in the organization losing $500 million in government funds each year resulting in a 40% budgetary deficit (Ciccariello, 2017). This loss will compound the challenges that the organization faces as it strives to provide comprehensive services to promote sexual health.
The adverse impact of politics is also apparent in the limited financial autonomy that Planned Parenthood has. Over the years, lawmakers have enacted measures that bar the organization from using federal funds to provide specific services. Due to these laws, Planned Parenthood cannot use federal funds to perform abortions (Primrose, 2012).
Medicaid also only covers abortion costs in cases where a mother’s life is in danger (Ciccariello, 2017). The regulations that restrict how the organization spends allocated funds undermine its capacity to provide a broad range of comprehensive and quality services. Although the organization relies on donations to cover the medical expenses associated with abortion services, conservative legislatures have also criticized it for doing so. For instance, in 2011, the Energy and Commerce Committee expressed concerns regarding the organization’s use of external funds to acquire the amenities and equipment needed to perform abortions (Primrose, 2012). This concern indicates the ongoing attempts by conservative political groups to besmirch the reputation of the organization and subsequently, its capacity to serve diverse segments of the population.
Other elements that have undermined the capacity of the organization to operate in different locations include growing anti-choice sentiments, encompassed by the family values movement, and investigations that question the legitimacy of Planned Parenthood. The growing momentum of the “family values” campaign is a significant threat to the sustainability of Planned Parenthood. The values espoused by this social and political movement attack the fundamental services offered by the organization. In addition to urging for the adoption of pro-life perspectives, the campaign also aims to limit access to contraception (Primrose, 2012). The association of contraception with abortion suggests the emergence of conservative views towards sex. The shift in sex education policies to emphasize the provision of abstinence-only education also reflects the growing popularity of Victorian-era morality (Primrose, 2012). This association and the failure of school districts to provide comprehensive sex education indicates the continuing detraction of the significance of Planned Parenthood in contemporary society.
In addition to the noted attacks, right-wing politicians have also launched attacks aimed at besmirching the reputation of Planned Parenthood. For instance, in 2011, the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation into the finances and institutional practices of the organization (Primrose, 2012). The stated objective indicates that the inquiry aimed to promote accountability; however, the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, noted that it sought to undermine women’s rights (Primrose, 2012). The findings of the Committee gives further credence to Richard’s claim. Notably, in its report, the Committee expressed concern for the organization’s use of funds from external sources to facilitate the provision of abortions and claimed that Planned Parenthood advised underage girls to lie about their age to circumvent reporting laws (Primrose, 2012). The opinions of the Committee demonstrate the use of politics to foster the creation of adverse views regarding the institution and to undermine its capacity to get funding and provide necessary services.
The extent to which mounted attacks compromise the capacity of the organization to offer comprehensive care varies across states. In states that have enacted bans that limit the organization’s access to Medicaid and Title X reimbursements, this effect is more pronounced than in the rest of the country. So far, states that have implemented the stated measure include Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (Ziegler, 2012). The increase in the number of states that have enacted anti-abortion laws suggests that Planned Parenthood’s future, across the rest of the country, is uncertain. According to Levi (2017), between 2013 and 2017 states passed 231 new restrictions on abortion. Due to the association of Planned Parenthood with abortion, fostered by pervasive misconceptions, it is apparent that politics will continue to undermine the financial sustainability of the organization and its capacity to provide necessary reproductive health services.
As indicated by the exploration of the factors that limit the performance of the organization, politics are a significant threat to the sustainability of Planned Parenthood. So far, conservative political ideologies and societal beliefs have facilitated the partial defunding of the organization, and the proposed measures suggest that the organization’s revenue will decrease dramatically in the future. This decrease in revenue will further compromise Planned Parenthood’s capability to support the acknowledgment of reproductive rights through the provision of comprehensive care.
- Ciccariello, C. (2017). Defunding Planned Parenthood—the stakes for America’s women. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(3), 307-308. 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0178.
- Levi, C. (2017). Many states are hostile toward abortion rights. In A. Cunningham (Ed.), Reproductive rights (1st ed.). New York, NY: Greenhaven Publishing, LLC.
- Primrose, S. (2012). The attack on planned parenthood: A historical analysis. UCLA Women’s LJ, 19(2), 165-211. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/38f952g1
- Ziegler, M. (2012). Sexing Harris: The law and politics of the movement to defund planned parenthood. Buffalo Law Review, 60, 701-747. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/buflr60&div=21&id=&page=
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