Opinion: An attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on public health

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Planned Parenthood will face the first in a series of Republican-led congressional hearings on Sept. 9. The hearings, entitled “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider,” are a response to a slew of deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, a conservative anti-abortion group formed in 2013.

If the name is any indication, the hearings promise to be heavily biased and will be an attempt to actualize the GOP’s dream of defunding Planned Parenthood at the federal level. In the videos, which have been heavily debunked by factcheck.org, the inaptly titled Center for Medical Progress posed as a biomedical research company intending to purchase fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood. Members of CMP secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

The videos attempt to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit, and that they alter abortion procedures in order to obtain more viable specimens. Following an independent investigation with the firm Fusion GPS, former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson deemed the videos unreliable, as they contain gaps and have been heavily edited. Regardless, the videos remain the centerpiece of the upcoming hearings.

Despite the interminable war Planned Parenthood has endured at the hands of conservatives since the 1980s, its services and campaigns remain as necessary as ever. Planned Parenthood aims to educate patients and provide safe, affordable reproductive health care. Conservatives in places like Texas, whose legislature has voted to prevent access to contraception and abortion procedures, have themselves to thank for expected spikes in unwanted pregnancy. The outrage and knee-jerk reactions over the CMP’s accusations is not only misinformed; it could have dire consequences for the 20 million women who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception and basic health services.

From 2011 to 2013, more abortion restrictions were enacted in the U.S. than in the entire previous decade. Last year, the Supreme Court voted to allow for-profit companies to be exempt from a mandate that requires employers to cover certain contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare). If abortion prevention is at the heart of the issue for conservatives, but affordable contraception is not an option either — especially for poor and low-income women — what realistic alternatives are left?

Planned Parenthood has maintained that it does not profit from fetal tissue, and all monetary figures discussed in the video refer to acquisition and shipping fees. The tissue obtained from abortions may also only be donated with the patient’s consent. Linda Tracy, president of the nonprofit organization Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc., referred to the $30 to $100 figure for acquisition fees mentioned in the video as “reasonable.” In an interview with the New York Times, Tracy stated “Planned Parenthood is in no way making a profit from participating in a tissue donation program.”

The sale and use of fetal tissue has long been a contentious issue. In 1974-75, a federal moratorium was placed on fetal tissue research following the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.  In 1988, the National Institutes of Health called together an advisory panel that included several abortion opponents, but the panel still voted in favor of fetal tissue research with regulatory provisions. The decision upheld the research’s significance, yet the ban remained in place for five long years, a period of time that could have seen substantive medical progress. President Clinton overturned the ban by executive order in 1993.

“Every child who’s been spared the risks and misery of chickenpox, rubella or polio can thank the Nobel Prize recipients and other scientists who used such tissue in research yielding the vaccines that protect us…” said bioethicist R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin to the Los Angeles Times, illustrating the important contribution the research makes to public health. “Any discussion of the ethics of fetal tissue research must begin with its unimpeachable claim to have saved the lives and health of millions of people.”

The reality of denying services to women who are not ready to have children is inconsistent with the rallying cry of the pro-life movement. The failure to acknowledge the life-saving research contributions that fetal tissue has made is also unwise. The baseless allegations against Planned Parenthood and threats to defund it jeopardize women’s health, public health and medical progress in general. As Benedictine nun Joan Chittister once explained in an interview with PBS, “If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed and why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

*The vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes toward STD/STI screenings, cancer screenings, contraception and other women’s health services; three percent of services go toward abortion procedures. For more information, see this report by the Washington Post.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kaley LaQuea at kaley.laquea@colorado.edu.

Kaley LaQuea

Kaley LaQuea is a master's student in the Media and Public Engagement Department. She covers national issues related to intersectional feminism and race.

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