Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A De-Funding Fallacy

I’ ve always hated the abortion debate. It’s a difficult topic, involving morals, medicine, individual autonomy, and the law, and there is just no way to simplify the issue and have any kind of learned debate. But since learned debate has been expunged from our public discourse, abortion is now framed in labels and sound bites. You’re either pro-life or pro-choice, which I think are terrible labels for both both sides. Abortion is always a bad choice that may, at times, be considered necessary for a variety of reasons, but always a bad choice. And everyone should be also thought of as pro-life, in that we should want the best outcome for all parties involved in this most difficult decision.

With this in mind, I noticed recently that Medicaid officials have ruled that an Indiana law which pulls all state funding from Planned Parenthood to be illegal. As I understand the situation, Medicaid rules prevent service providers to be excluded from participating in the joint State and Federal Medicaid program based the range of services performed by the provider. Planned Parenthood performs abortions, but also provides other services such as family planning, cancer screenings, and care for sexually transmitted diseases. Medicaid can be excluded from paying for specific procedures such as abortions, but the entire agency and all the other services it provides cannot simply be struck from the provider rolls.

What bothers me specifically about the Indiana law, and similar bills passed in many states (one was proposed by Congress as well) is not it’s legal status…that’s up to the courts to decide. What annoys me is that it’s yet another example of how the exercise of partisan politics actually impedes the stated goal of those same Demagogues of Democracy.

Planned Parenthood does perform abortions. They do so out of funds that are privately raised and fees paid by individuals for care. State and federal dollars granted to Planned Parenthood are already prohibited by law for use in support of abortion services. Instead, they are used for family planning programs and screenings for breast and cervical cancer in underserved women.

So if we follow the money, we find that defunding Planned Parenthood as a political statement against abortion won’t affect abortion at all. What does get affected are those activities that help prevent unwanted pregnancy. Decreased availability of family planning services means more unwanted pregnancies, more children in single parent households, more children in poverty, and (paradoxically) likely more abortions as women struggle to cope with the consequences of unexpected pregnancy. And if we are framing the defunding of Planned Parenthood as promoting a “Culture of Life,” doesn’t it make sense that this culture would want poor women to be screened for and get care for breast and cervical cancer in the early stages while these malignancies are still curable, rather than wait until the patient has advanced disease?

I’m not Catholic, but there a lot of things I admire about the Catholic Church. One thing I’ve always found impressive is that their theology is always consistent. Their steadfast interpretation of the Culture of Life sets them against abortions, artificial family planning, and the death penalty. But it also means promoting health, welfare, and social justice for all, as we are all precious creations of God. I suppose that in America, you’re only precious if you can afford your own pap smears and mammograms.

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