Dear Representative Paulsen:
This is written to you because you are the senior Republican member of the Minnesota delegation. You have been a bipartisan leader in the fight to repeal the tax on medical devices. You should now reach across the aisle to help end the culture wars making Washington ungovernable. Leave federal funding for family planning and reproductive services (except abortions) in place for Planned Parenthood. Here’s why:
The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, is a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman. Hyde is a fine example of American pragmatism at work. And you should continue to support it, as well as federal funding for family planning and reproductive services by Planned Parenthood.
You will not be alone in that support. Recent nationwide polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood; 64 percent of voters, including 72 percent of independents, disagree with defunding. A January poll by Quinnipiac University found 62 percent of voters opposed defunding. The reason is not hard to understand.
In Minnesota, Planned Parenthood provides basic health care to 63,000 patients each year through its network of 19 clinics. The clinics provide more than 80,000 birth control visits, 7,500 life-saving breast exams and 101,000 STD tests. Planned Parenthood distributes nearly 300,000 units of contraception annually. One in five women in this region have relied at one time or another on Planned Parenthood for care; 38 percent of those patients use Medicaid to access health care at Planned Parenthood.
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, Planned Parenthood affiliated clinics provided 10.6 million services for 2.7 million clients in 2013. Of those services, 327,653 (3 percent) were abortion procedures. Because there were 4.6 million clinical visits nationwide in 2013, the Washington Post calculated that abortions comprise approximately 14 percent of all clinic visits. In 2014, Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood was approximately $530 million (41 percent), out of a total Planned Parenthood budget of $1.3 billion. Abortion opponents have argued that even though the Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer money going to Planned Parenthood for abortions, all money is fungible.
Is money to churches fungible? According to a column by Tom Gallagher in the National Catholic Reporter, in the last two years of the Obama Administration, more than $1.5 billion in federal funds went to the Catholic Church and Catholic-affiliated organizations. Many critics have objected to taxpayer money being paid to any church on the ground that all money is fungible. In true American fashion, we muddle through these distinctions, to most Americans’ general satisfaction, in our pursuit of the common good. The same is true in family planning and reproductive health services provided by Planned Parenthood.
Past congressional efforts to “catch” Planned Parenthood clinics in illegal activity or improper spending for abortion services have always failed. Most recently, an anti-abortion group released what they claimed was undercover footage purporting to show Planned Parenthood in a criminal fetal tissue enterprise. As U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, Texas, summarized in his 42-page opinion, there was “not a scintilla of evidence” that Planned Parenthood committed wrongdoing or should be terminated from the Medicare program. Later, the two producers of the discredited film were indicted in Texas (later dismissed), and more recently have been charged with 15 felonies by the California attorney general for violating the privacy of health care providers. But the real harm caused by the culture wars is to the people who can no longer obtain needed medical services.
Following restrictions in Texas on state funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, unwanted pregnancies and abortions increased. A Guttmacher Fund study found that providing women with publicly funded family planning services prevented 2 million unintended pregnancies and 693,000 abortions. Without these services, unplanned births and abortions would have been 60 percent higher.
Contraception is just what it says it is. In the absence of contraception or the easy and free availability of contraception, abortions rise. As many health professionals have pointed out, Planned Parenthood is responsible for preventing hundreds of thousands of abortions each year. In the absence of funding for reproductive health services, abortions and unwanted pregnancies will begin to soar.
So the fight over Planned Parenthood is not really a fight over abortion at all. The way we deal with cultural dilemmas in America is to grant the individual the widest possible choice. By the same token, we do not outlaw federal funds to religious organizations because we disapprove of their tenets or patterns of abuse; we recognize that they provide society with much good, and we muddle through.
Finally, Congressman, you have better things to do than to be a reluctant soldier in this cultural war. Our business eyes are trained upon you to provide bipartisan leadership in tax reform, to be a voice for open trade, to understand the need for reasonable immigration policy and to help us clear out the thicket of unnecessary regulation. These are matters that we should not muddle through, but, with focus, solve.
Vance K. Opperman Constituent
Vance K. Opperman (email@example.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.