A recent debate for the early presidential campaign in preparation for the 2016 election is a reoccurring topic: abortion. The inspiration for rekindling this argument is a series of videos that include discussions with esteemed officials of the infamous organization, Planned Parenthood. The videos reveal Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services along with other representatives, disclosing some details of the abortion procedure that are specifically intended to preserve the fetal cadaver for research. The officials also mention price ranges for the fetal tissue that they provide, which can be between $30 and $100 (“Investigative Footage.”). Many of the GOP candidates, supported by pro-life organizations, have called for the investigation and defunding of Planned Parenthood by the federal government.
The sale of human body parts, under all circumstances is both gruesome and illegal, however, the whole truth has yet to be enumerated. Beginning with what kind of organization Planned Parenthood is, “a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health as well as maternal and child health services.” Contrary to the media’s critique, it is not a nationwide hub for abortion and blasphemy. In fact, only 3% of total services are abortion related and only 10% of patients receive these services. The other 97% of services include treatment and testing for S.T.I.’s (sexually transmitted infections) (42%), prevention and screening for cancer (9%), providing contraception (34%) and other women’s health services (12%). From 2013 to 2014, Planned Parenthood provided 378,692 pap tests, 487,029 breast exams, and detected nearly 88,000 early cases of cancer, potentially saving thousands of lives. Planned Parenthood provided 3,577,348 counts of birth control information and services, accounting for the prevention (not termination) of over 516,000 unwanted pregnancies.
On top of that, Planned Parenthood has provided 4,470,597 tests and treatments for S.T.I.’s, including 704,079 tests for HIV and has diagnosed 169,008 STI’s, enabling earlier treatment, thus preventing the further transference of infection, and again, potentially saving thousands of lives (“Planned Parenthood 2013-2014 Annual Report.”, 2014). (Reminder: all these services have been provided from 2013 to 2014 alone.) These are the real facts about Planned Parenthood.
They are the largest active proponent for more planned and less unplanned pregnancies, for which abortion is the last resort. Whether this redeems them according to one’s perspective on abortion, is still a matter of ethics. The common understanding of abortion is typically the modern, medical procedure that uses medicine and surgical procedures to terminate and remove the fetus, but this is the culmination of an ancient practice. Some of the earliest records of abortion come from Ancient Egypt, as early as 1550 B.C.E, and Ancient China, 500 B.C.E. (“Abortion and Reproductive Rights History.”)
Many of these primitive methods involve ingestible remedies and herbal treatments. Many were ineffective, unreliable or even dangerous, but some still survive in developing cultures, or communities that do not have access to modernized abortion (Fox.) In most of the developing world, however, where abortion is highly regulated and done in a medical setting, is where the debate of legality becomes prevalent. Many people formulate their perception on abortion according to their philosophy or religious affiliation. Some religions, like Buddhism, make exceptions for abortion, but most religions, especially Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism or Islam, forbid and condemn abortion. “Atharva Veda describes abortionists as the greatest of sinners. Gandhi, perhaps the most respected Hindu of the twentieth century, said: “It seems to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime” (“Religious Views”.)
This is the reasoning where most of pro-life sentiments originate. Pro-lifers believe that person becomes a person when they are conceived, and that the value of their life is equal to a born child’s. This causes them to believe that abortion is killing a baby rather than only an embryo or fetus. Others support their argument based on the potential value of the life of the fetus. Currently pro-lifers are criticizing the practice on the grounds that selling fetal tissue is barbaric or inhumane (Baird, Robert M., and Stuart E. Rosenbaum.)
The defense to this argument is the pro-choice idea, which does not necessarily condone abortion but promotes the right to have the option. Feminist-backed pro-choicers claim that a woman’s choice and her health are nobody else’s business. Others choose to be pro-choice for the sake of protecting victims of rape, incest or pregnancies that jeopardize the life of the mother (Baird, Robert M., and Stuart E. Rosenbaum.) Obviously the character of Planned Parenthood might not make up for an unconditional disapproval of abortion, but maybe there is another factor in the debate. There is a difference between the disapproval of abortion and the disapproval of unsafe abortion.
Primarily in developing countries, where safe abortions are not available, abortions still occur. In fact, 21.6 million occur annually. An estimated 68,000 women die due to unsafe abortions every year, accounting for 13% of all maternal deaths (“Preventing Unsafe Abortion”). An additional 5 million women who experience unsafe abortions will have long term health issues. You may think: Why don’t these women just carry, give birth to and raise a child like the traditional sequence of pregnancy?
The answer is: These women face the cultural dangers of an unwanted or premarital pregnancy (which are often the result of rape in the first place). Being the mother of an unwanted or premarital child is a crime punishable by death in many countries. Unsafe abortion is a widespread and sinister epidemic. So what stops it from being a problem in developed countries? When women have access to safe abortion, they have the opportunity to escape the dangers of the alternative (“Abortion Rates Same Whether Legal or Not.”) Additionally, the promotion of safe sex and use of contraceptives in western civilization have produced the lowest rate of abortion since 1973.
From 2008 to 2011, annual abortion rates in the U.S. have dropped by 13% and researchers estimate there has been an even larger decrease since then. These figures follow the pattern that abortion rates have been following since the 1980’s (Caplan-Bricker, Nora). So while government funded abortions are not ideal, they offer an alternative to something worse and will eventually not be necessary nor popular. Abortions supervised and executed by Planned Parenthood are not evn federally funded, however. (*With the exception of pregnancies that are the result of rape, incest, or those that endanger the life of the mother*)
By law, Planned Parenthood cannot use taxpayer funds to carry out abortions (“Planned Parenthood.”) So, the defunding of Planned Parenthood by federal and state government does not even affect what it is meant to prevent. The only thing that happens when the federal and state legislations choose to defund or decrease funding for Planned Parenthood is a decrease in the organization’s ability to provide all the services that are not controversial, and are the only accessible, affordable health care for many women. Also, the prices that were discussed in the videos were fees to reimburse the donor for transporting and preserving the fetal tissue, which is completely legal.
The money is merely a necessity to keep a non-profit organization alive and is typical to many organizations, just like when you return an item to a company and the company reimburses you for shipping and handling (Cabaniss). When organizations distribute their fetal tissue it goes to organizations such as National Institutes of Health, who spent $76 million on fetal tissue in 2014. These organizations can use the tissue in stem-cell research. Fetal tissue can and have been used to find cures for diseases, including polio, rubella and chickenpox. Stem-cell researchers are currently trying to find a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, using fetal tissue (Park.)