What Would Happen If the U.S. Defunded Planned Parenthood? - Pacific Standard

What Would Happen If the U.S. Defunded Planned Parenthood?

Cutting the program would affect millions of Americans and destabilize America's progress toward fewer unwanted pregnancies.
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A Planned Parenthood supporter participates in a demonstration in support of the organization. (Photo: Sarah Mirk/Wikimedia Commons)

A Planned Parenthood supporter participates in a demonstration in support of the organization. (Photo: Sarah Mirk/Wikimedia Commons)

Efforts by Republicans in the United States Senate to defund Planned Parenthood might have failed this week, but the sentiment remains strong on the right. Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, for example, has said that the next president should strip the organization of all federal funding, which made up 46 percent of its budget last year. (It's important to note that none of that funding goes to supporting Planned Parenthood's abortion services.)

Calls to end the government's support of Planned Parenthood are nothing new. And while nothing has happened yet, what if this latest round of political persuasion proves to be successful? The research suggests some consequences:

IT WOULD AFFECT A LOT OF PATIENTS, ESPECIALLY LOWER INCOME ONES

In 2010, 2.4 million American women and girls got contraceptives—such as birth control pills, condoms, and IUDs—from a Planned Parenthood, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research non-profit that advocates for reproductive rights. In 2010, more than one in three women who received contraceptives from a publicly funded clinic, which offers at least some of their patients free or reduced-price care, did so at a Planned Parenthood.

We couldn't find numbers on how many Americans have visited Planned Parenthoods for non-contraceptive services, but the organization's data say that 42 percent of the services it provided in 2014 were for sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment; 34 percent were for contraception; and nine percent were for cancer screening. Three percent were for abortions. Altogether, those services may account for millions more men, women, boys, and girls.

IT WOULD DESTABILIZE THE PROGRESS THE U.S. HAS MADE TOWARD FEWER ABORTIONS AND UNWANTED PREGNANCIES

In 2010, publicly funded clinics in the U.S. averted 1.7 million unwanted pregnancies, including 374,000 teenage pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The clinics prevented 570,000 abortions and saved taxpayers $7.6 billion. Since Planned Parenthood is a major player among publicly funded clinics, a sudden defunding could take a big chunk out of these numbers, at least temporarily.

IT WOULD CREATE A LARGE GAP IN REPRODUCTIVE CARE FOR LOWER-INCOME PATIENTS

Jeb Bush says there are many community health centers that aren't Planned Parenthood doing great work and are more deserving of taxpayer money. But it appears these clinics aren't accomplishing as much as their larger, better-known cousin: Between 2001 and 2010, about 700 new clinics receiving federal money opened in underserved areas, but the number of Americans receiving publicly funded contraceptive care remained "virtually unchanged," the Guttmacher Institute reports. That's because the new centers serve so few people compared to city health departments and Planned Parenthood. Surely many community clinics make a great difference to the clients they do serve, but they likely wouldn't be able to quickly make up for a 46 percent deficit in Planned Parenthood funding.

A LARGE PROPORTION OF AMERICANS WOULD OPPOSE THE MOVE

In a poll released yesterday, 47 percent of Americans said they opposed the effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood, compared to 42 percent who supported it. The poll was conducted after an advocacy group called the Center for Medical Progress released secretly taped videos it claims show Planned Parenthood staffers discussing selling parts taken from aborted fetuses for profit, which is illegal. Planned Parenthood says the prices its staffers discussed are only to cover the cost of preserving and shipping the fetal parts, which is legal.

Support for Planned Parenthood funding was considerably higher before the release of the videos: In 2012, a poll found that 60 percent of Americans opposed ending Planned Parenthood's federal funding, while 31 percent supported it, NJ.com reports.

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So why do politicians keep calling to end support for something so many Americans use? In 2011, NPR reported that part of the problem is the organization's size: While Planned Parenthood is a big provider of contraceptive and other preventative health care, it's also the nation's most prolific abortion provider, accounting for one in four abortions performed in the U.S. Although federal funding already does not go to abortions—conducted at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else—it seems that one-in-four figure rankles some abortion opponents enough that they want to throw out the entire enterprise.

But why is the organization is so huge? Perhaps only a big organization could have survived the legal challenges Planned Parenthood has withstood—many in connection to its willingness to perform abortions—over the last 30 years. Up until the 1970s, abortion rights enjoyed majority and bipartisan support among Americans, as the New Yorker reports. That changed with the second Nixon Administration, and, in the 1980s, "opposition to abortion grew violent," Jill Lepore writes. As a result, "fewer and fewer places were willing to provide abortions, which made Planned Parenthood, in many parts of the country, the last abortion provider left standing." Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of its services went toward other reproductive care.

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