As Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have taken center stage, Planned Parenthood supporters are fighting back. Facebook pages like “Humans of Planned Parenthood” have sprung up, with people from across the country sharing their stories of how the organization provided them with quality care. Supporters and Planned Parenthood itself have been quick to note that the bulk of the care they provide—97 percent, in fact—isn’t abortion care. Most of what Planned Parenthood does is sexual and reproductive health care services like breast exams, STI screenings, contraception and gynecological care like PAP smears.
Abortion care is a tiny fraction of what Planned Parenthood does, and many Planned Parenthood facilities don’t provide abortion care at all. To attack Planned Parenthood because of anti-abortion sentiments isn’t just wrong-headed; it’s counter-productive if your goal is to “prevent abortions.”
In light of this, it is understandable that Planned Parenthood and its supporters have fallen back on this defense. While abortion comprises only a sliver of their services, so much of what they do serve to actually prevent the need for a pregnant person to have an abortion. But here’s what I keep coming back to: Why do we need to keep reiterating that three percent? Why is it the default defense of Planned Parenthood onto which we seemingly fall? And what is it doing to the abortion rights we claim we support?
Planned Parenthood isn’t going to convince the anti-abortion extremists at the deceitful Center for Medical Progress or anywhere else that they deserve funding and support. These fanatics don’t care about facts, logic or basic human rights. They want to ban all abortion and many virulently oppose birth control. We’re not going to win this crowd over.
Not only that, but we’re actually shooting ourselves in the foot with this defense. Sea Change Program, an organization that works to end the stigma against abortion, defines abortion stigma as “a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.”
“Nearly all of us at Sea Change has worked in abortion care at one time or another. We know that disagreeing with abortion stigma, and wishing it didn’t exist, won’t make it go away,” said Sea Change Program’s Executive Director Kate Cockrill. “We also know that when we minimize or avoid talking about our abortion work (or any other stigmatized work), we might protect ourselves from stigma in the moment but we’re contributing to a stigmatizing environment.”
That’s exactly what we are doing with Planned Parenthood and abortion. By defending Planned Parenthood as “only” three percent abortion care, we are reinforcing abortion stigma. When we siphon off abortion care from the rest of the reproductive health care spectrum, we actually end up stigmatizing the very thing we’re supposed to be defending.
We have backed ourselves into such an unnecessary and harmful corner that Planned Parenthood is now publicly thanking Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump for rejecting “extreme positions” on the organization and expressing his potential support for some funding. This from a man who, in the same statement, said that Planned Parenthood is “like an abortion factory” and that the government should not fund abortion care.
What are we doing here? Planned Parenthood is thanking a candidate for saying he hates them, but maybe doesn’t hate every single thing about them?
We have to stop this. We have to stop inferring that abortion it isn’t really health care, that it’s okay to deny government funding to it. We cannot defend reproductive health care by reinforcing the stigmatizing notion that abortion is different.
Abortion is not different. Abortion is health care. Abortion is still legal in this country, and a basic human and constitutional right.
Across the country, there are many independent health care clinics that specialize in providing abortion. These clinics provide safe and quality abortion care to pregnant people in need. They are not breaking the law or doing something bad. They are providing a basic health care need that one in three women in America will have, and yet we have relegated them to the shameful shadows while we try to win favor with those who hate us the most.
It wouldn’t matter if 100 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion care—they would still deserve our support and, quite frankly, federal funding. For nearly 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal funds for abortion care, and it is renewed annually with support from Democrats as well as Republicans. The Democratic Party and liberals more broadly have conceded that abortion doesn’t deserve the same kind of funding that other health care services do. It is an egregious violation of the rights of low-income pregnant people, and yet the left has done little in the way of galvanizing to end it.
That’s why many reproductive rights supporters were so heartened by the introduction of the EACH Woman Act, which would ensure that all pregnant people, regardless of their income level, have access to safe and legal abortion care. If a woman receives health insurance through the federal government, she would be covered for all pregnancy-care, including abortion. Additionally, the EACH Woman Act would prohibit states from banning private insurance coverage for abortion care, a legislative trend that has been on the rise.
But we’re not talking about the EACH Woman Act anymore. We’re not even talking about abortion. We’re talking about how only three percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion-related and we’re praising Donald Trump for simply considering support for continued Planned Parenthood funding. By failing to embrace and defend abortion, we are hurting our movement, our rights and ourselves.
Lauren Rankin is a freelance writer, feminist activist, and board member of A is For, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive rights. She has a Master of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University.