You might think I would run out of topics for a five-days-a-week opinion column, but being a news junkie with a contrary nature, I don’t. I have the opposite problem: Sometimes events outrun my columns before I can get them written.
This week’s flap over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates is a case in point. Before this story broke, I planned to write sometime in the next few weeks about my personal dilemma as a pro-choice Republican (did I mention I have a contrary nature?) when it comes to supporting candidates who seek to attack Planned Parenthood financially.
My response is to create my own personal matching program. For every dollar I contribute this year to a GOP candidate or to an organization like the Log Cabin Republicans, which supports Republican candidates regardless of their position on abortion rights, I plan to give a dollar to Planned Parenthood. In most cases, this will reduce the amount I give to Republican nominees.
The amounts are trivial, but the principle is important to me: I want a Republican Party that makes room for people with social views like mine. I can’t encourage this outcome by supporting Democrats, as I generally did until a few years ago. I can foster a broader-based Republican Party by being a Republican (because the party’s positions on private enterprise and the role and scope of government are reasonably close to my own), while limiting my donations and making counterbalancing contributions to support other principles that the party rejects, such as marriage rights and reproductive choice.
With the news that the Komen foundation is ending its grants to 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates, I have decided to expand my matching program. My wife and I make several donations every year to Komen, in support of friends and relatives who participate in walkathons and other fundraising activities to fight breast cancer. We won’t turn our backs on these efforts, though I suspect some of our circle will now skip the Komen events. Regardless of one’s views on abortion, Komen is doing good work, and I see no reason to boycott the group. But Planned Parenthood does good work too, against breast cancer and in all areas of reproductive health. So, as with the GOP, any contributions we make to Komen are going to be limited, and we are going to match those contributions with equal gifts to Planned Parenthood.
Social Security is the reputed third rail of U.S. politics, but abortion is actually the high-voltage wire of American discourse. Businesses and other neutral parties usually try to avoid touching the issue, since it almost invariably means offending close to half the population. Thus it came as a surprise that the Komen organization dropped its longstanding relationship with Planned Parenthood based on the mere initiation of an investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., into whether the organization is using federal funds to help pay for abortions, which would be illegal.
Planned Parenthood insists that it complies with the law, and Stearns has not issued any findings to the contrary thus far. Short of incontrovertible misconduct or gross carelessness on Planned Parenthood’s part, however, there is likely to be serious disagreement over whatever Stearns finds. In all probability, Planned Parenthood does not directly use federal money to pay for abortions, but the organization’s clinics do provide a wide array of services. Money that is spent on general overhead or on administrative expenses can be viewed as funding abortions and abortion counseling, or not, depending upon one’s perspective. People will see what they want to see.
Unlike losing the Komen grants, which are a tiny part of Planned Parenthood’s funding, a cutoff of federal money could deal the organization a serious blow. National Public Radio reports that Planned Parenthood spends about $1 billion annually. When the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted last year to cut off federal funding, Politico said Planned Parenthood was receiving $80 million, or about one-quarter, of the $317 million annual allocation of Title X funding.
Komen’s founder and CEO, Nancy G. Brinker, released a video yesterday denouncing “scurrilous accusations” that her group had caved to pressure from anti-abortion activists, portraying the change in position as simply an attempt to manage her group’s resources more effectively.
Yet anti-abortion leaders make no secret of their desire to use defunding to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics, which offer a broad range of services, in order to curtail access to abortion. “We should end the day when the largest abortion provider is the largest recipient of [Title X] federal funding,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who introduced the cutoff measure. The defunding move died last year in the Senate, but a similar fight is likely again this year.
Christianity Today reported this week that that nearly half of Planned Parenthood’s total budget comes from various federal, state and local programs, and commented that “Employee scandals, government deficits, and budget-cutting lawmakers have provided a rare opportunity for pro-life groups to advocate for defunding Planned Parenthood.” To abortion rights supporters, this sounds cynical and heartless. On the other side, people who oppose abortion - and this includes most Republicans - believe that they are saving innocent lives, and that they have a right to ensure that their tax dollars do not pay to keep the lights on in a facility that provides abortion services.
To me, the question boils down to what remaining options will be open to the poorest, most defenseless women in our society. No matter what happens to Planned Parenthood, or to Roe v. Wade, women of means in the 21st century will always be able to safely control when and whether they bear children. A frightened teenager with supportive parents can get the help she needs. The fortunate women in families like mine need not rely on Planned Parenthood clinics to be screened for breast cancer.
I think every woman should have the same opportunities, so I’ll support Planned Parenthood regardless - in fact, in spite of - those who seek to defund it. That’s the Republican way, after all. With smaller government and a modest tax burden, I’m supposed to be in charge of my own choices. I find this choice pretty easy to make.