Planned Parenthood is now at a point of “significant vulnerability” because of a shift against abortion and government spending, one historian of the organization says.
“They are a very expensive organization to fund. They are very well-heeled, and they are receiving taxpayer subsidies at a time when the country is running a $1.6 trillion deficit,” commented Charles A. Donovan, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who co-authored the 1991 book “Blessed are the Barren: The Social Policy of Planned Parenthood.”
“They are singularly focused on expanding other services to adolescents, because they need a next-generation client base. They’ve done more abortions every year for 27 years running, even as everybody on the life issue now says they want to see abortion rare.”
Planned Parenthood has become a major player in U.S. domestic and international policy, despite much initial religious and moral opposition after its founder Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York in 1916.
While its combination of feminism and sexual liberation has become dominant in many sectors of the country, its long history now faces new obstacles.
The House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood in its first budget bill of the session. At the same time, undercover investigations into the abortion provider’s affiliates in seven states have revealed its staffers’ apparent willingness to accommodate the needs of illegal sex traffickers.
President Barack Obama, in a February television interview with NBC affiliate WWBT, reacted to the pro-life group Live Action’s controversial video which resulted in the firing of the clinic director at a New Jersey affiliate.
“You know my bottom line is I think that Planned Parenthood in the past has done good work,” the president said. “If there was a specific problem at this center, it should be addressed, but we shouldn't get so distracted with some of these issues.”
But Donovan pointed out that problems at Planned Parenthood run deep.
“They really have exposed generation after generation of women to being exploited, to the heartbreak of abortion, to disappointment in their personal lives,” he commented in a Feb. 24 interview.
He wondered whether the actions and attitudes exposed by the investigative videos were “somewhat inevitable” given the organization’s past.
“They’ve gotten very used to the idea that they’re going to see 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds in their clinics,” he explained. “Their job is simply to provide them with devices or services and so they ignore context.”
The legal environment makes adolescents “isolated” and renders Planned Parenthood unaccountable to parents. Many schools even cooperate in letting adolescents go to the clinics.
He charged that Planned Parenthood has an “obsession” and a “single-minded focus” on eliminating unwanted pregnancy, not preventing sexual activity.
This is very much in the heritage of its founder, according to Donovan. Though Sanger was unable to see some of the implications of her advocacy, she abandoned her family, took several famous men as paramours, and wrote a great deal about “the joys of unfettered sex.”
Planned Parenthood has “basically been a voice for sexual liberation, multiple partners, things like that, ever since,” Donovan said.
Sanger also strongly believed that there were inferior people and races and that the government had an “affirmative responsibility” to lessen their numbers or limit their participation in public life, he noted.
Her mission probably included sexual liberation and feminism for public policy, he said, but “it was more about weeding out what she called ‘human weeds’.” She was a fan of nativism and ethnic superiority. Sanger was also “very harsh” in some of her characterizations of African-Americans.
Sanger targeted “anybody struggling in the economy at the time,” Donovan added. These included blacks, recent immigrants, and lower-class Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans and Gypsies. Her targets included anyone from a race of a low intelligence as measured by tests of the time.
“It took a long time for Planned Parenthood to get significant influence,” Donovan continued. “They probably had much more active resistance than pro-life groups did at the beginning.”
While Planned Parenthood was rejected by religious organizations and most government officials, who believed that the government should not be planning the nation’s families, the organization was persistent.
“They developed massive mailing lists,” Donovan explained. “They worked one-by-one with religious denominations which were already fracturing on church doctrines on sexuality. They worked very carefully with the medical profession.”
Planned Parenthood’s true breakthrough came on the issue of population control. The organization persuaded the State Department and the military establishment that the government would have to deal with overpopulation in foreign lands to ensure American security and worldwide stability.
This approach won them access for domestic and international programs and won converts including Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush when he was in Congress.
While other organizations have played a role in the debate about birth control and abortion, Planned Parenthood has been “the longest and most consistent supporter” of legal abortion on request and puts up the strongest resistance to pro-life laws and regulations. It is present in almost every state and provides nearly one out of every four abortions.
While some of the organization’s supporters contend that access to birth control and abortion saves money, Donovan claimed this rationale was “specifically crafted to keep penny-pinching conservatives on board with what Planned Parenthood does.”
The argument was effective in the 1970s and probably took additional strength after the Reagan administration. Since 1992, Planned Parenthood’s funding has grown every year.
However, this economic argument ignores the large-scale effects of changing public views about marriage, sexuality and family.
“Economic growth comes through stable families,” Donovan said, urging people in the pro-family and pro-life camps to provide holistic solutions.
“We’re really about building families to where people can have the trust and the relationships that so often now just seems to be missing. Because we are collectively as a society viewing sexuality as an avenue for personal fulfillment, a way to exploit others, and there are really no rules of the road.”
Opponents can’t simply deny funding to abortion providers, he advised. They must help low-income women get screenings without having to find that the most convenient clinic is also the one that encourages them to have abortions and be promiscuous.
He suggested that pro-life advocates become more aggressive in demanding and supplying personal support for pregnancy centers that utilize Planned Parenthood’s marketing schemes and establish a presence in poorer neighborhoods to give alternatives to women in need.
“In some areas that’s happening. But it’s not happening in the big cities like New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and others where really the abortion problem is an epidemic and a national scandal.”