The main argument against Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is that it is the nation’s largest abortion provider, performing around 330,000 abortions per year, and the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal dollars from directly paying for abortions.
Medicaid reimbursements and federal health grants are not supposed to go directly toward abortions, although a recent report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom claimed that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortion-related services.
In New York, “hundreds of thousands of abortion-related claims were billed unlawfully to Medicaid” over a four-year audit, the report said. One audit in Nebraska “found a Planned Parenthood affiliate spending federal funds on abortion expenses” like “physician fees” for an abortionist and “employee travel” and “on-call” work time involving abortion procedures.
Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.
During a town hall last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan explained that even if federal dollars are not going to direct payment for abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, the current revenue may be fungible – it frees up other resources for Planned Parenthood to perform abortions.
Additionally, the organization has come under fire for multiple controversies in recent years.
A 2015 Alliance Defending Freedom report claimed that Planned Parenthood clinics in several states were not reporting suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors as they were supposed to by law.
Planned Parenthood doctors were also shown on undercover camera in 2015 discussing prices for the body parts of aborted babies with actors posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company. Those videos shone a light on the organization’s role in the fetal tissue trade.
These controversies have strengthened calls for defunding. According to polls released by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List earlier this month, a majority of respondents in states that will be “battleground states” in the 2018 Senate races – like North Dakota, Florida, and Ohio – opposed taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
In his town hall comments, Speaker Ryan stressed: “We don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions, but we want to make sure that people get their coverage.”
“We believe that this can better be done by putting that money in federal community health centers,” he added. “They are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all the controversy surrounding this issue.”
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According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, such health centers are publicly-funded and exist in all 50 states, almost 10,000 in total, compared to around 650 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. The health centers served over 24 million people in 2015, while Planned Parenthood says it serves around 2.5 million per year.
There are also thousands of other rural health clinics that offer services including primary care and first response, as well as some vaccinations, though these facilities are not required to offer as many services as federally qualified health centers are. Some 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. also offer help for expectant mothers.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the “main purpose” of federally qualified health centers “is to enhance the provision of primary care services in medically-underserved urban and rural communities.”
These health centers do not perform abortions but they do provide services like pre-natal and perinatal care, diabetes screening, pap smears, checkups and mammograms, something Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has admitted her clinics do not provide, despite claims that they do. Planned Parenthood only provides referrals for mammograms, not the procedures themselves.
Would Planned Parenthood survive?
Removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood would not necessarily mean that the organization would shut its doors.