Abortion is a hot button topic. Many a Facebook fight has occurred between Pro-life and Pro-choice activists hurling facts and figures at each other, angrily typing rebuttals in all capital letters. Abortion is not an easy topic to address in an editorial. It’s huge. It’s personal. It’s political. It’s cultural. It’s controversial. It’s complicated.
The recent media buzz and political debate around Planned Parenthood (and the resulting debate about abortion) has prompted The Beacon to take some time to address this topic — but we know, before even writing the first line, that we won’t be able to convey the depth and complexity of this issue within the confines of this editorial space. So please, read this — but read more. Read news articles. Read testimonies. Read statistics and reports.
And then write your own. Submit your thoughts to The Beacon opinion section, so we can continue this conversation, broaden the dialogue, and deepen the insight. Write in, but do so thoughtfully. This section is meant to start dialogue and challenge our beliefs — resulting in either strengthened convictions or shattered illusions. Either way, grappling with these controversial topics will always be a good thing, if we keep it civil and constructive.
The Center for Medical Progress’ secret recording controversy
The House Judiciary Committee began a series of Congressional hearings about Planned Parenthood in early September, after a group called The Center for Medical Progress began releasing recordings that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood officials illegally selling fetal tissue obtained through abortions.
Planned Parenthood submitted a forensic analysis to Congress which concluded that the videos were so edited/altered that the content cannot be trusted, but the debate in Congress continues, and has sparked important tangential debates about Planned Parenthood and abortion in general.
Many conservatives in Congress would love nothing more than to see Planned Parenthood closed down forever, and if they can’t do that directly, they’ll settle for defunding the nonprofit.
Representatives who want to defund Planned Parenthood, are attempting to make an attachment to the congressional budget bill. A “clean” bill, without this attachment, has passed through the Senate, in order to prevent a government shutdown (at least until Dec. 11). Currently, the bills on the table include: HR 3495, which would change state funding requirements for organizations that perform abortions and HR 3134, which would defund Planned Parenthood — period.
But while the debate in Congress may be stuck on the fetal tissue controversy, don’t be distracted by the politicians and extremists. Amidst the sensational accusations, there are some very important points to be made about Planned Parenthood.
Let’s get our facts straight
Planned Parenthood may be criticized most often for its work in providing abortions, but that’s actually an incredibly small part of the work they do. According to the Planned Parenthood website, abortion services make up only three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services.
Eighty percent of Planned Parenthood clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy, and that usually comes in the form of contraceptives, which women can receive for free without insurance.
But Planned Parenthood is even broader than that; there’s more to women’s health than pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood delivers reproductive health care, sex education and information to around 5 million women, men and young people worldwide. Planned Parenthood affiliates provide educational programs and outreach to 1.5 million young people and adults every year. Planned Parenthood provides about 400,000 Pap tests, 500,000 breast exams and nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections every year.
The problem with defunding
There are many problems with defunding Planned Parenthood.
First of all, 2.7 million women and men in the U.S. visit Planned Parenthood every year. And one in five women in the U.S. have used Planned Parenthood for health care at least once in their lifetime. Defunding the nonprofit would severely limit the services they could offer to these people, who are mostly working class citizens.
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood operates about 700 health centers nationwide, and the majority of their services are preventative primary care, which prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections and screen for various kinds of cancer. So if the services at Planned Parenthood had to be decreased, unintended pregnancy and STIs might increase.
Moreover, taking away a clean, safe environment for an individual to have an abortion won’t stop them from having one. And the truth is: Taking away an option, doesn’t necessarily mean someone will make the right choice — in fact, people don’t really have a choice to begin with if you take away all their options. When you take away a person’s choice, you take away their autonomy and the opportunity they have to make the “right” choice (whatever that means to you). But if you give them a choice, then they can confidently choose the “right” choice for themselves.
Responses to proposals to defund Planned Parenthood
Many pro-Choice activists, liberal politicians and Planned Parenthood supporters are infuriated by the proposed bills.
Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood, released a statement saying, “politicians are heartlessly scrambling to attack women’s access to health care however they can,” and “they’re continuing to push that agenda no matter how many they hurt in the process.”
Affirmed by White House press secretary Josh Earnest on CNN a few weeks ago, President Obama has promised to “veto any legislation that tried to advance wholesale defunding for Planned Parenthood.”
Senior Alexa Bryant Capellas loves Planned Parenthood. She’s used Planned Parenthood to receive information about contraceptives, to obtain birth control pills, to get tested for STIs, and to get an IUD. Alexa said their compassionate presence and commitment to nonjudgmental, unbiased education is what she values about the services offered through Planned Parenthood.
“I had no idea (what I wanted),” Alexa said. “So they took the time to explain everything from natural family planning... to a hysterectomy, and everything in between. They wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into, that I knew everything that was going to happen. And for me, that was wonderful, because I grew up in Catholic school, never really had sex ed, my parents never really talked about it. So it was nice to have somebody there. I loved it. They were so sweet and wonderful, and never pressured me.”
Not only did the staff at Planned Parenthood provide Alexa with the information she needed to make informed decisions about her health and body, they also provided the physical and emotional support she needed.
“There was a day I went in, because I thought I was going to get an IUD, and then I second-guessed myself… so I literally made an appointment just to come in and talk about it and I cried in the appointment,” Alexa said. “And the doctor just came over and gave me a hug and was very compassionate. So that’s how I think of Planned Parenthood: a compassionate organization.”
When Alexa contracted an STI from her (now ex-) partner, she said the staff at Planned Parenthood was informative and empathetic. Because her partner was the only person she had had sex with, and she had been tested before, she knew he had to be sexually involved with other people. The staff at Planned Parenthood helped her decide how to have the conversation with her partner about cheating in a relationship.
Alexa even went to Planned Parenthood to get tested for STIs after she was sexually assaulted. When she informed staff of her situation, they asked if she wanted to get information about sexual assault advocacy centers or if she wanted a counselor. Alexa said she’s always impressed by their compassion, thoughtfulness and awareness.
“Everytime I go in, they ask me, ‘Do you feel safe in your relationship? Do you trust your partner? Do you think your partner respects your boundaries?’” Alexa said. “They ask you stuff like that because they want to know if, not only are you aware of what’s going on, but are you consenting to it, is it something you want to do.”
“(It’s nice to know) at least these people won’t judge me,” Alexa said. “These people won’t look at me and say ‘It’s awful what you’re doing. This is a terrible decision.’ I want somebody to just say, even if they have their own reservations, ‘Well, okay, I still respect you as a person.’ I think that gets lost (in the debate).”
Anonymous UP student, “Jenna,” recalled an experience she had with a friend:
“One of my really good friends fell in love with a guy,” Jenna said. “And they slept together. Then a month later she missed her period. She thought, ‘Oh, this happens. Periods don’t start on the same day every month, at least not for most girls.’ So we went to the store just to be sure. But then (the pregnancy test) came back positive and she just had a heart attack, in the bathroom stall (she) started hyperventilating.”
After a second positive test, Jenna and her friend made an appointment at Planned Parenthood to learn about her options. At the appointment they learned she wasn’t far along, the embryo hadn’t grown into a fetus yet.
“We talked about it,” Jenna said. “And she was like, ‘I want this one day, but I don’t really want this right now. It’s something that would hold me back from who I could potentially be.’”
Jenna and her friend gave themselves a week to make a decision. Jenna said she and her friend had many conversations about life, motherhood, and abortion. But most importantly, they discussed the difference between “life” and “a life.”
“I don’t think that this (embryo) is ‘a life.’ I definitely think that I’m terminating life, but in a general sense. Like, this has so much potential to be a child, but right now it's an embryo. It's a grouping of cells. It’s not a baby.” Jenna said.
So they went back to Planned Parenthood and Jenna’s friend took two pills.
“(It was) one of the most awful things I’ve ever witnessed a woman go through,” Jenna said. “It was like a period on drugs. She had to take Vicodin she was in so much pain. I sat with her for three days as she could barely move or eat. Not only that, but going through the emotional trauma of knowing that you had to make that choice.”
“It was really really hard for her,” Jenna said. “After that experience, we talked about it for a couple months, and she ended up feeling like that was the right decision for her. She never thought she’d have to make the choice to abort. But I think she really discovered that her life is worth so much more than her reproductive system.”
Jenna’s experience with her friend strengthened her belief in choice and her desire to give women the power to choose what is right for themselves. Jenna is deeply offended by the idea of Congress defunding Planned Parenthood.
“I think that Planned Parenthood gives women a chance,” Jenna said. “I think (defunding Planned Parenthood) is awful. I think it’s a way to target working class women, and the majority of those women happen to be minority women. I think it’s a way to take away our power and to put us in this position where we have no choice over when we want to have children.”
But Jenna recognizes the complexity of the issue. She is constantly conflicted by overlapping values: politically, religiously and personally.
“On a religious level, I’m a Christian,” Jenna said. “I don’t agree with abortion. I think it’s really sad. But I also think, as a woman, I should never be forced to have a child. I think that forcing a woman to be pregnant is the same as raping her. You’re taking her body and using it, and taking away her freedom.”
So what’s our opinion?
Planned Parenthood should not be defunded. Abortions are traumatic events and shouldn’t be taken lightly. They should be avoided at all costs. But a woman’s body and life is hers to own, no one else’s. If a woman chooses abstinence, we support her. If a woman chooses natural family planning, we support her. If a woman chooses to have sex, we support her. If a woman chooses to have an abortion, we support her — we don’t have to support the behavior — but we will always support the woman, the autonomous, free-thinking human being.
Extended Interviews with Alexa and Jenna
Thoughts on Abortion
“I’ve always been Pro-Choice,” Jenna said. “As a woman, I’m deeply offended by people who want to take that choice away from me. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been extremely intoxicated, I’ve been taken advantage of, and I’ve had pregnancy scares from that. And I can’t imagine people telling me ‘You can’t have an abortion because you decided to get drunk.’ How cruel is that?”
“After my friend’s experience, if that happened to me, I’d probably choose to have an abortion,” Jenna said. “Hands down. I don’t think I’m killing anything. I’m killing the potential for something. I think there’s a big distinction between the two. Yeah, I made the choice to have sex. That does not mean I am forced to have children. Sex is not just for reproduction. It’s for pleasure. And sometimes things like this happen.”
“Pregnancy can be really traumatic for someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant,” Jenna said. “Your body goes through so many changes in ways you can’t even imagine. Not wanting that change, and not enjoying it, makes it torture.”
Thoughts on Abortion
“I’ve had family members have abortions and go to Planned Parenthood,” Alexa said. “And she was one of those people, she didn’t regret it, but it caused her severe depression because she didn’t want to have to do it, but she’s so thankful that she had that option at that time in her life. Because she was not, at that time, living in a home. She was an alcoholic at that time, well she still is, but she was using. And she didn’t want to put a child through that. And now, it’s five years later, she’s got clean. She has a job. She had a baby in February. And it’s much better.”
“If someone’s not ready, they’re not ready,” Alexa said. “That’s the whole point of Planned Parenthood — not only to prepare young women, but to prepare young adults for what life can look like, and do you want it to look like that? Do you want to be sexually active in your life? If so, then this is what it can look like for you. Do you want to have children? If so, then this is what it can look like. It’s in the name, Planned Parenthood. They want you to plan and be prepared.”
“We don’t question other corporations that use child labor or that use exploitative measures in developing countries, or use people that are minorities or that are of lower means in society,” Alexa said. “We don’t talk about that.”
Let’s talk about sex
“Sex is a natural part of life,” Alexa said. “If you choose not to have it, that’s your choice. If you choose to have, that’s your choice. And there’s no value connected to either one of those decisions. Neither one is of greater value than the other.”
“I think that (this debate) really centers on sex and sexism,” Alexa said. “How can we shame women into doing what we believe is correct? To me, that’s one of the cruelest things you could do to somebody — to shame them into a decision. Because it’s not (a decision), it’s coerced, like rape. If you are under pressure to make a decision, it’s not consent. It’s not a decision.”
“If I choose to prevent pregnancy, then why is it someone else’s business how I choose to do that?” Alexa said. “If I choose to do that by not having sex, great for me. If I do that by choosing to have sex and use protection, that’s great for me too. The outcome is still the same.”
“(Motherhood) is romanticized so much, (but it) isn’t the same for everyone,” Alexa said. “To say it’s your duty, or it’s your expectation, that’s putting it on such a high (pedestal). If someone says I know I can’t live up to that, that I can’t be (a mother)... there’s nothing wrong with that — to have that self-awareness. I think that’s a very responsible thing to do, to be aware of what your strengths are.”
“For example, at the University, if someone is not good at math, the University would never force them to take on engineering as a career,” Alexa said. “Society would never say, ‘Well, we need more math majors, so you need to do it. We need more engineers, so you need to do it.’ People are built in certain ways. Some people just aren’t built for motherhood, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And if they want to prevent it, isn’t that better?”
“Our value in society for the family, for reproduction, is so strong that it bleeds into all these other aspects of life, and we’re blinded by that,” Alexa said. “People are so blinded by (idealized) motherhood or fatherhood that their values of compassion, personhood, equity, equality just go out the window.”
“The woman has a life too,” Alexa said. “If you force her into motherhood, that is taking away her life. She’s not physically dead… but that’s another form of killing personhood in someone.”