By Gail Collins – The New York Times.
Planned Parenthood! Government shutdown!
Anti-abortion politicians are in an uproar over videos that supposedly show Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating on prices for tissue from aborted fetuses. Carly Fiorina was passionate about the subject in this week’s Republican debate. Nothing she said was accurate, but nobody’s perfect.
The House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the matter with lawyerly precision, starting with a hearing titled: “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” In a further effort to offer balance and perspective, the committee did not invite Planned Parenthood to testify.
(Coming soon: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce prepares to welcome Pope Francis with a hearing on “Papal Fallibility: Why He’s Totally, Completely and Utterly Off Base About Global Warming.”)
Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million a year from the federal government, mainly in reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients. Now the House Freedom Caucus, which specializes in threatening to shut down the government, has announced that its members won’t vote for any spending bill unless the money is eliminated.
At Wednesday’s debate, Jeb Bush issued a popular Republican call for transferring the money to other “community-based organizations” that provide women’s health services. “That’s the way you do this is you improve the condition for people,” he said. As only Jeb Bush can.
You may recall that Bush made a similar suggestion earlier in the campaign, in which he added — to his lasting regret — “although I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”
“I misspoke,” the former governor of Florida said later. Well, that does seem to happen a lot. But do you think it was really a slip of the tongue? Or are there other services Planned Parenthood provides that Bush would be happy to get rid of as well? He did once write a book that tackled the subject of how to reduce abortions without ever mentioning the word “contraception.”
This leads us to an important question about the Planned Parenthood debate: Are the people who want to put it out of business just opposed to the abortions (which don’t receive federal funds), or are they against family planning, period?
“I’m telling you, it’s family planning,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a phone interview. “They decided that was their target long ago.”
Let’s look at the even larger question: Can Congress really just move the Planned Parenthood money to other health care providers? Besides family planning services, Planned Parenthood offers everything from breast exams to screening for sexually transmitted infections. Many of its patients live in poor or rural areas without a lot of other options.
Another move-the-money presidential candidate is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — he’s the one issuing round-the-clock insults to Donald Trump in the desperate hope of attracting a little attention.
Jindal cut off $730,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to his state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, even though neither offers abortion services. They do, however, provide thousands of women with health care, including screening for sexually transmitted infections — a terrible problem in some parts of the state.
No big deal. When the issue went to court, Jindal’s administration provided a list of more than 2,000 other places where Planned Parenthood’s patients could get care.
“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services,” responded the judge.
Whoops. It appeared that the list-makers had overestimated a tad, and the number of alternate providers was actually more like 29. None of which had the capacity to take on a flood of additional patients.
When Planned Parenthood leaves town, bad things follow. Ask the county in Indiana that drove out its clinic, which happened to be the only place in the area that offered H.I.V. testing. That was in 2013; in March the governor announced a “public health emergency” due to the spike in H.I.V. cases.
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, studied what happened when Texas blocked Planned Parenthood grants and tried to move the money to other providers. Even when there were other clinics in an area, she said, “they were overbooked with their own patients. What happened in Texas was the amount of family planning services dropped. And the next thing that happened, of course, was that unplanned pregnancies began to rise.”
If an elected official wants to try to drive Planned Parenthood out of business, there are two honest options: Announce that first you’re going to invest a ton of new taxpayer money in creating real substitutes, or shrug your shoulders and tell the world that you’re fine with cutting off health services to some of your neediest constituents.
If you get heat, you can always say you misspoke.