Bills are pending before Congress to cut federal funding through for elective abortions (both through Medicaid and the new health care reform law), and for those organizations that perform abortions. The most prominent organization that will be affected by this effort is the one I like to call the “Temple of Moloch”, for its fanatical devotion to the modern sacrifice of children — Planned Parenthood, which single-handedly aborts over 300,000 children a year.
Planned Parenthood and their allies, of course, are not taking this lying down, and has enlisted their media friends to shore up public support. Over the weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece that summarized the abortion advocates’ talking points — if these bills are passed, the women who now go to Planned Parenthood clinics and receive care like cancer screenings will be left with no health care at all.
I was contacted by a friend, who was trying to formulate a compelling, practical and loving response to this argument. To me, the answer is two-fold. First, we should trust women to be smart and resourceful enough to make sensible decisions about their health care. Second, we need better public health policies to address the serious health issues facing urban low-income people.
The Times’ and Planned Parenthood’s argument fundamentally denies the competence of women. It is based on the false assumption that women have no alternatives to Planned Parenthood for their health care. That’s absurd — what, women aren’t smart enough to Google “Gynecologists” or “General Practitioners” in their area? That’s no way to sustain an argument, much less a coherent set of public policies.
This debate over abortion funding actually gives us an opportunity to talk about a serious public health issue that is of very grave concern to the Church, and that needs a serious public policy response. In many urban areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are located, the reality is that there are not enough health professionals to serve low-income people. The better public policy response to that is not to keep throwing money to organizations that do abortions, hand out contraceptives, and do some other health care services on the side. Instead, we need to take pragmatic steps to address the actual problem of medically under-served populations and areas. Steps like giving doctors incentives to be more accessible to Medicaid patients (e.g., realistic reimbursement rates), or to taking the money saved by these bills and enhance direct public health services (e.g., free cancer screenings), or using it to train professionals like Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners from the community who can give health care at lower cost than doctors. We will also have to change laws so that poor immigrants can qualify for Medicaid and other government health insurance programs. Given the chronic health problems of poor people, these would be much more sensible way to spend public money than to continue to subsidize abortionists.
Also, we have to help the private sector to respond. Many, many urban hospitals and medical schools are already doing outreach to underserved populations (in both urban and rural areas). There are surely ways to encourage more of that through sensible public programs (e.g., grants and other incentives). For example, some hospitals in New York City have walk-in clinics in convenient locations that are accessible to low-income people, and, because they accept Medicaid, CHIP, etc. they can provide good health care to underserved areas. We need more of these clinics.
In fact, one way to respond is to imitate Planned Parenthood’s own business model (without the abortions). Surely there are altruistic medical people (and maybe some new religious communities?) who would be willing to start up non-profit organizations to provide good basic health care to poor people in the inner city, perhaps with help from start-up grants from the government, and reasonable reimbursement rates from government health insurance programs.
The reality is that Planned Parenthood is able to succeed in winning public approval because there really is a dire public health problem in urban areas, and the private sector and the government are not adequately responding right now. It’s great to de-fund abortionists, but we still need to address the underlying problem.
Catholic social teaching actually has the right answers to the underlying problem — a combination of private and public sector responses, building up community and intermediary organizations, and helping individuals to become part of the solution. And of course, Catholic teaching also has the ultimate answer to the Planned Parenthoods of the world — respect life, don’t destroy it, and work to build a culture of life and civilization of love.