Looking for any opportunity to make abortions illegal, conservative politicians and media outlets are seizing on a recent series of videos of Planned Parenthood staff discussing the sale of fetal tissue and organs. While the conversations certainly come across as callous and disturbing, at this point there is no proof of any illegal activity. The reality is that the business of donated organs and tissue is a gruesome endeavor, and those tasked with harvesting these items are doing difficult yet important work that saves lives.
If the investigations prove that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal organs or tissue, then the organization should be fined and those in charge should be punished. Removing all federal funding for an organization whose main business provides the less fortunate valuable assistance is perhaps more callous than anything Planned Parenthood has done and certainly not in line with penalties doled out to other organizations that receive federal tax dollars. For example Duke Energy which receives over $898 million in subsidies (nearly twice the federal funds allocated for Planned Parenthood) is not only the second largest polluter in the U.S. but they also illegally dumped tens of millions of gallons of polluted waste water into a tributary that provides some North Carolina residents' drinking water. All told, they pleaded guilty to nine violations yet no action was taken on Capitol Hill to limit their corporate welfare.
Medicare fraud steals tens of billions of tax payer dollars per year, yet one of the largest cases of fraud ever perpetrated didn't lead to a removal of federal funds for the company. In fact, conservatives cared so little about these unlawful acts that they elected the company's CEO, Rick Scott, as governor of Florida.
This hypocrisy suggests the concern over potentially illegal activities at Planned Parenthood is just another attempt by anti-abortion advocates to chip away at a woman's constitutional rights.
Of course if the goal is simply to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S., congress should consider removing funds for another program that has been proven to increase both teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases -- abstinence-only education. U.S. taxpayers have spent over $1.7 billion since 1982 on this program that actually promotes the very behaviors it is meant to prevent. Despite this failure, the majority of Republican presidential candidates would expand the program while congress recently expanded abstinence-only education spending by 50 percent.
Imagine if we used this conservative logic on something like gun rights. Does anyone think it would be a good idea to issue all 13-year-olds a loaded gun with an unlimited supply of ammunition then refuse to show them how to properly use it? Would it really make any sense to tell these same kids that they can't use this gun they've been given until they get married to someone who has also never been educated in how to use a gun? Would the U.S. be a better place if these kids were taught that they are only allowed to use their gun for self-defense because using the gun for pleasure is immoral? It's pretty easy to see why abstinence-only education is so awful once you consider just how important being educated is when it comes to something like owning a firearm.
Or consider the argument that gun advocates make when anyone suggests restrictions to gun ownership. They'll point to the failure of government restrictions on alcohol and drugs. They'll also claim that no matter how many rules you put in place preventing people from owning a gun, those who want to get a gun will find a way to get a gun. History shows us that this is also the case with outlawing abortion as many who claim to be "pro-life" are trying to do.
Rather than preventing abortions, making it illegal just moves the practice underground. Fetuses will still be aborted, except now the rate of death increases significantly for the women involved. Additionally all of the organs and tissue that were being legally used to save lives will now be disposed of or sold on the black market. Such opportunities to make money off of aborted fetuses might actually lead to more abortions. The reality is that just like prohibition and the war on drugs, criminalizing abortion will have a negative impact on all Americans.
In the end the biggest problem is that conservatives don't understand the goal of Planned Parenthood and its supporters. No one wants more abortions. The goal is to give people the tools they need to "promote family planning and healthy, responsible reproductive and sexual behavior". For as much attention as is given to abortions, the reality is preventing unplanned pregnancies accounts for more than ten times as many of the services provided at Planned Parenthood as preforming abortions.
The decision to engage in sexual activity or have an abortion is not a decision women take lightly. The least we can do as a country is make sure that women get all the information possible to make this an educated decision. Unfortunately, the policies that conservatives support subjugate women's rights and make the dissemination of this information exponentially more difficult. If only conservatives realized how their actions ironically increase the need for institutions like Planned Parenthood.