We keep having these circular arguments about how many other services Planned Parenthood provides in order to justify their existence, but the truth is, they don’t need to. Birth control prescriptions and UTI medication don’t balance out abortion care; they complement it.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted 241-187 to block funding to Planned Parenthood for a year. It’s essentially a symbolic gesture, intended to express disapproval of the reproductive health care provider on the heels of conservative outrage about Planned Parenthood donating fetal tissue for medical research.
The defunding bill is not expected to pass in the Senate, and President Obama has indicated that he will veto it if it does. But instead of backing down, because there’s nothing more important to the American right than preventing women from making choices about their own bodies, the House is threatening another government shutdown if must-pass budget legislation includes any federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
But you already know that. You’ve been on Facebook and Twitter and you’ve seen the #IStandWithPlannedParenthood memes. You know that Planned Parenthood already doesn’t spend federal money on abortions, and that defunding it would leave hundreds of thousands of low-income women and families unable to access birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing, and other crucial reproductive health care. You know that the video conservatives are citing to demonize Planned Parenthood is altered and misleading, and that even so, Republicans like Carly Fiorina are straight-up lying about what it depicts. You know that not all Planned Parenthood locations even provide abortions, and that overall, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes toward abortion-related services.
So, in response, you’ve been tweeting about all the times you turned to Planned Parenthood when you needed a Pap smear, or an IUD, or a diagnosis for your polycystic ovarian syndrome. You’ve been wallpapering Facebook with that meme breaking down Planned Parenthood’s budget into a pie chart that demonstrates what a tiny fraction of their funding actually pays for abortions. You’ve been reminding everyone that comprehensive sex education and accessible birth control are what actually lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and thus fewer abortions.
And in the process, I’m afraid you’ve given up crucial ground—ground that feminists, progressives, and pro-choice Americans can’t afford to lose.
For too long, we’ve allowed the anti-choice zealots to define the terms of the abortion debate. We’ve conceded that, OK, sure, abortions aren’t great, but if people are going to have them, better they go to reputable health care providers than do it themselves with a coat hanger. We’ve agreed that late-term abortions are terrible, but reminded detractors that they represent a tiny fraction of terminated pregnancies and are almost never performed unless the fetus has abnormalities incompatible with life or the health of the mother is at stake. We’ve allowed ourselves to be backed into a rhetorical corner, conceding that abortion is undesirable, but often better than the alternative.
Of course it’s important to debunk anti-choice lies and attempts to portray Planned Parenthood as a mindless, heartless conveyor belt of abortions. But it’s also important to continue emphasizing the idea at the core of pro-choice, pro-woman politics: Abortion is not wrong. It’s not shameful. It’s not only acceptable as a last resort. It’s a constitutional right, and it should be available to everyone.
I don’t stand with Planned Parenthood in spite of the fact that they provide abortions. I stand with them because they provide abortions. Far too few health care providers actually make it possible to access this vital service, especially for people of limited financial resources. As anti-choice forces gain ground, inch by inch, through waiting periods and labyrinthine restrictions that place abortion farther and farther out of many people’s reach, it’s crucial to remember that this is what we’re fighting for. The goal is not just sex education or cancer screenings. It’s the unfettered right to decide when and how to become a parent.
Instead of getting sucked into Republican rhetoric about fetal tissue donation and when life begins, we need to stand firm on the ground that matters most: There are no circumstances under which forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term is a moral or acceptable action. We keep having these circular arguments about how many other services Planned Parenthood provides in order to justify their existence, but the truth is, they don’t need to. Birth control prescriptions and UTI medication don’t balance out abortion care; they complement it. They all share the end goal of empowering people to take control of their sexual and reproductive lives.
All too often, feminists are put in the position of arguing for policies that support good sex education and accessible birth control on the grounds that they will decrease the necessity of abortions. But “fewer abortions” is not, on its own, a laudable goal. Abortion is morally neutral. It’s never anyone’s first choice, but when an unwanted pregnancy occurs, there is nothing wrong with seeking it out. I’m not on board with “safe, legal, and rare” as the standard for abortion care. “As many as necessary, with no shame, no hassle, and no cost” would be closer to my preference.
Attacks on abortion, even under the guise of “protecting women,” are inherently misogynistic and at odds with women’s liberation. Though anyone with a uterus can get pregnant, regardless of gender, the fact that reproductive rights issues disproportionately affect women influences how they’re treated by society; misogyny, and the prevailing attitude of male entitlement toward female bodies, choices, and experiences, means that challenges to abortion rights are taken less seriously than issues of self-determination that primarily affect men.
Feminism and anti-sexism require a firm commitment to the idea of bodily autonomy. You cannot be a feminist if you believe that anyone has the right to use another human being’s body in any way, absent consent. Forcing a woman to remain pregnant against her will is never consistent with a pro-woman ideology.
So let’s stop letting anti-woman forces move the goalposts on us. Yes, Planned Parenthood provides an array of essential services. Abortion is one of them. Standing with Planned Parenthood means standing for abortion rights. No excuses, no compromises. Feminism means freedom of choice.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. Her first book will be published by Plume in early 2016.