Thursday, August 13, 2015

Defunding Planned Parenthood Means MORE Abortion

Listen, I'm no fan of abortion. Well, I'm not sure anyone is really a "fan" of it necessarily. I certainly wish we didn't have abortions. I grieve every woman who feels unsupported, scared, or alone enough to make such a choice. It's a societal tragedy that we've not created a space to welcome every and any child into the world for a decent life. Sadly, though, we just haven't.

I'm no fan of abortion. I'm also no fan of making it illegal. Beyond the philosophical and theological issues with legislating morality, for me it's quite pragmatic: legal or not, there will still be abortions and I'd rather have women getting them in safe, healthy places than the dirty backrooms and coat hangers which I hope are things of the past (at least in this country).

As a Christian, I am adamantly opposed to killing of any kind. I don't believe killing is ever justified - although I do admit, sometimes, the pressures of the world (or a particular situation) and our oft-deficient imaginations, lead us to make the regrettable choice to take life. As much as it's wrong and unjust, occasionally, in this messed up world of ours, taking life seems the best of many bad choices available.

We can judge and argue over when those times arise - we can talk about things like war and execution and self-defense and suicide - and we'll likely disagree. We're always looking for other options, other ways to protect life (or at least we should be) - and that's great. But we're all going to find those tricky situations where taking life feels like the best option - as sad as that is.

I don't think the legality of abortion will change that dynamic for many women, if any. I also don't think it's consistent with a Christian response to such tragedy. I want to work for a world in which fewer and fewer women find this choice the best one for them when encountering a difficult or unexpected pregnancy. There are a lot of ways to do that.

One of the ways people have come up with lately is the notion of defunding Planned Parenthood - and organization that facilitated 327,615 abortions in 2013-2014 (the full annual report is available here). And there's a case to be made there. About 3% of services PP provides are abortion services - and figures hover around 10-12% for the percentage of PP clients who receive these services. Planned Parenthood gets 41% of its revenue from governmental sources (much of it Medicaid reimbursements for its poor clients, who are most of the population PP serves). Cutting those funds might make a real difference.

However, the Hyde Amendment, routinely attached to Federal Appropriations bills since 1976, prevents the use of federal funds for abortion services, unless there is rape, incest, or the mother's life is threatened. Yes, there are some ways to get around this, but any federal funds that do trickle through are minimal, at best. Planned Parenthood spends virtually no federal money on abortions. Defunding Planned Parenthood on the Federal level will not change the number of abortions PP facilitates at all.

If something like a defunding happened, PP could make up a good portion of the money lost through increased private fundraising - any remaining shortfall would likely mean less money for STD testing and treatment, PP's largest service area and also contraception. Contraception - providing free or reduced cost birth control - accounts for 34% of Planned Parrenthood's work, more than 10 times the number of abortions provided. Contraception is the single biggest way to avoid pregnancies most likely to end in abortion.

Yes, freeing up PP money for other organizations that don't facilitate abortion at all would be a great option. Unfortunately, most of the areas PP works, they are the only place for women to go for cancer screenings, contraception, and other health needs. PP is a real asset to many poor communities who have no other medical services. The other organizations who would get the federal money after a defunding are largely outside the poorest, most vulnerable communities - we'd be abandoning the very women who need the most help (not to mention putting lives at risk as those women determined to end their pregnancy will lack safe, healthy ways to do so).

This option does put us on the right track, though.

I don't like the way some proponents of abortion (including Planned Parenthood in many cases) are working for an attitude towards abortion that makes it no different than having a wart removed. I don't think there should be a stigma attached to anyone or anything, but I'm not opposed to making sure people understand what they're really doing when they end a pregnancy. It shouldn't be an unemotional, stress-free decision any more than serving on a jury in a death-penalty case or sitting on the front lines of a war might be. Life is a big deal (for a more in depth discussion of how and why I use the word "life.")

But, let's say society changes. Let's say people really understand the "pro-life" position and chose to continue their pregnancies, we have to recognize the great repercussions. Adoption would go up, sure, but not nearly enough. Anyone who's ever had a child understands the bond that exists. I don't think I'd ever be strong enough to give up my child, even if I knew I couldn't give her a proper upbringing. It takes an amazingly, crazy-strong individual to give a child up for adoption - these parents are the strongest of human beings. There is just no way every abortion can be traded for an adoption. It won't happen. I'd be surprised if 10% went that direction. Adoption is great and there are lots of kids in foster care right now who need a family, but it's not a viable solution.

What we'd have is an influx of kids living in very difficult situations, many in situations that, quite honestly, aren't preferable to abortion.

If we, as Christians, believe in the importance of life strongly enough, it's in those situations where we have to intervene. Frankly, we do a pretty poor job of it for the kids who are already here, let alone the ones yet to come. If we'd stop wasting our money on politicians and lobbyists, there might be enough to make a real difference. More importantly, though, we need to begin investing our lives. Christians and others opposed to abortion should be starting and supporting health centers in poor neighborhoods (maybe those that could eventually be worthy of funding, taking grants away from Planned Parenthood based on merit rather than legal action) - but not just health centers, daycares and afterschool programs - community centers that educate parents and help children succeed. These services are far more important to ensuring a real and true life for everyone around us.

Making abortion illegal once again might make us feel good in our worship services each week, but it does nothing to further the loving community Christ came to institute. Until we're willing to invest our lives in the lives of others we have no hope of creating the kind of loving community capable of truly valuing every human in the way it deserves.

If you want to end abortion - and believe me, I do - the enemy is not planned parenthood, it's selfishness and fear. If we want to combat those real enemies, we need to start with ourselves. We need to start with finding those around us who need our love and support and inviting them into our lives. The challenge of the gospel is to step out of our comfortable, self-sustaining existence and actually link our futures, our health, our well-being with the poor and the suffering. This means not running away when we get hurt or things get tough; it means surviving together or not surviving at all. This is what God did for us and it is what we're called to do.

So let's stop getting bogged down with bogeymen and get to loving people. Laws don't solve problems. Love does. We've got far more important things to do with our time.

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