Will Virginia's Abortion Restrictions Shed Light on Planned Parenthood?

What Women Really Think
Sept. 16 2011 10:45 AM

Will Virginia's Abortion Restrictions Shed Light on Planned Parenthood?   

Jess, I’ve been reading the proposed Virginia Department of Health regulations, and I think the Huff Post article you cite might be making an assertion that is both incorrect and inflammatory. I’m notoriously bad at reading legal-ese, but the “action title” in the health department documentation says that the regulation “Establishes minimum standards for facilities performing five or more first trimester abortions per month.”  Presumably, that means if a facility isn’t performing abortions that it is not subject to the regulations.

Rachael Larimore Rachael Larimore

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

Even though I’m a pro-lifer, I’m generally not a fan of these sneaky, backhanded ways to restrict abortion (on the other hand, I also see it as pro-lifers playing the hand they’ve been dealt). But I think there could be an interesting, if unintended consequence to this.  If there is nothing in the regulations to keep Planned Parenthood from staying open and providing birth control and gynecological exams  and they still close, what does that mean?

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Planned Parenthood likes to say that only 3 percent of the services it provides are abortions, to demonstrate that the organization is all about women’s health, not terminating pregnancies. I don’t question the veracity of that number, but I’ve always been suspect of its meaningfulness.  Even a first-term abortion can cost $400 or so. A pack of pills is, what, $10? You have got to prescribe a lot of birth control to take in the same amount of revenue as you do from one abortion.

And no, I don’t think that Planned Parenthood is in the abortion business to get rich. If it weren’t for the fact that they were the nation’s No. 1 abortion provider, I’d be immensely grateful for the services they provide. Unlike some conservatives, I’m not opposed to federal funding for Planned Parenthood as long as that funding is going to health care and birth control for low-income women.

BUT, let’s remember that when Abby Johnson shot to fame (or notoriety, depending on your point of view) for leaving her position at a Texas Planned Parenthood and became a pro-life activist, one of the reasons she cited was that she felt pressure to meet monthly quotas on abortions because it was the most profitable service that Planned Parenthood provides. Pro-choice activists were up in arms about this, and kept trotting out that meaningless “3 percent of services are abortions” number.

If Planned Parenthood offices in Virginia can’t meet the state’s new regulations and have to stop providing abortions, we’ll get an honest look at how they operate.  If abortions are what pays the rent, it’s fair to ask whether they push pregnant women who are undecided about their future toward abortion. (Why else tell a pregnant woman that there is no heartbeat until 17 or 18 weeks?)

And if that is their business model, we need to ask whether that is too high a price to pay.