I’ve been meaning to blog about something, but Gail Collins beat me to it in a great column today.
I respect my friends and neighbors who identify with a pro-life perspective. Yet I hope the pro-life movement reconsiders the tremendous harm it has done—and is now doing–in its campaign against Planned Parenthood. No organization has done more than Planned Parenthood to advance reproductive rights and maternal and child health in America. By providing contraceptive services, pap smears, and STD screening, Planned Parenthood provides a critical service across America. (See postscript below the fold)
Yes, Planned Parenthood performs abortions. They don’t use federal funds for this. Women have a constitutional right to these procedures. Like most Americans, I support abortion rights, which are so important for women’s equality. I also believe that low-income pregnant women should have the same rights that more affluent women do, to decide intimate questions free from bullying or economic pressure.
And, rather obviously, there would be many fewer abortions if youth and low-income women and men had greater practical access, with less social stigma, to the contraceptive and reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood provides. I grew up in a yuppie, liberal Jewish community in which (I’m told) high schoolers sometimes had sex, yet where teen pregnancy was rare. I would bet $5,000 that we had far fewer abortions than occurred among students at the socially conservative parochial schools a few miles down the road. Our society’s collective ambivalence and stigma surrounding contraception doesn’t reliably prevent sexual activity. It does have a way of making that sex less responsible and more dangerous for both individual human lives and population health.
Seventy percent of American teenagers have sex before their 19th birthday. I can’t say that I’m overjoyed by that statistic. Many teen sexual relationships are pretty crummy. As the father of two teen daughters, I despise the commercially-eroticized Jersey Shore culture that too many of our kids are marinated in. Yet teens are having sex. That’s the reality. And many other Americans who are not teenagers need the kind of information, services, and help Planned Parenthood has provided for decades very well.
We can address these realities by making sure that people get this help, or we can engage in magical thinking and hope for the best. That’s not working out very well. We can honor the historic compromise in which Planned Parenthood uses federal resources to provide essential non-abortion services. Or we can allow a small band of intolerant people to put a notch in their belts by demonizing a worthy organization, its employees, and the people who use its services.
I’m contributing $100 to Planned Parenthood. I hope you do, too.
Postscript: My own experience of this debate is that Americans are less polarized than one might think based on teh blogosphere or this thread. And most people on all sides would like to see a more civil and less partisan debate over matters so intimate to our humanity.
Most people who identify with a pro-choice perspective are concerned by the number of abortions in America. Quite a few, in their own personal lives, would not choose to have an abortion except under what they themselves consider very pressing circumstances.
Most people who identify with a pro-life perspective believe that abortion is a great moral wrong, that there should be fewer abortions, and that there should be fewer abortions for what many people believe are bad reasons. Few believe that abortionists should be compared with Ted Bundy or that abortion is equivalent to murder. Most people, even those who would support greater restrictions on abortion than I would, believe that abortion should be legally permissable in certain cases such as pregnancy due to rape or incest.
Those in the pro-life community who want to persuade women not to have abortions should still be concerned about the campaign against Planned Parenthood. In the first place, access to contraceptive services can reduce abortions. Second, there is a coarsening incivility to American politics exemplified by demonstrators bellowing at pregnant women entering a clinic. Third, many of the efforts to harrass Planned Parenthood staff and patients contribute to an atmosphere of violence and intimidation that should concern every American across the spectrum. If the goal is to have fewer abortions by persuading people that abortion is wrong. Bullying and intimidation do not advance that cause. Neither does economic pressure directed against economically vulnerable women.