Nope, Abortion Is Not Planned Parenthood's "Central Purpose"

What Women Really Think
May 6 2013 5:18 PM

Nope, Abortion Is Not Planned Parenthood's "Central Purpose"

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Barack Obama addresses the Planned Parenthood national conference in Washington, DC

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

When Obama spoke to Planned Parenthood recently for its national conference, he made the entirely rational decision to describe routine gynecological care as "women's health care." In Politico, Rich Lowry's response was a marvel of mendacity, a piece so thoroughly dishonest that the only accurate fact conveyed is that Obama spoke on a Friday. Lowry accused Obama of avoiding the topic of abortion. What he actually meant was that Obama did not use the word “abortion.” In fact, Obama criticized North Dakota for trying to ban abortions before many women even know they're pregnant, only he used the term “right to choose,” which everyone understands means the right to choose an abortion This was not an unusual or especially political choice. “Pro-choice” has been the standard term pretty much since Roe v. Wade.

But where Lowry was really dishonest is in his attempt to hoodwink his audience into believing that abortion is the sum total of Planned Parenthood's work, characterizing the procedure as the organization’s "central purpose" and claiming that liberals who talk about "women's health" or "reproductive health" are always and forever referring to abortion.

Listening to [Obama], you could be forgiven for thinking that the country is riven by a fierce dispute over whether women should be allowed to choose their own ob-gyns or decide whether to take contraceptives or to get cancer screenings. One side is pro-women’s health, the other anti.

In one way, this is an accurate description of reality. The right is waging a war on women's ability to get basic gynecological services. That's why Republicans tried to shut down the federal government over funding that is earmarked for contraception, STI treatment, and cancer screenings—by federal law, federal money that goes to Planned Parenthood cannot be for abortion. That's why they keep attacking contraception subsidies, on the state level as well as the national level. That's why the single most controversial item in the Affordable Care Act is the provision of contraception coverage for women with insurance. The word "abortion" gets thrown around a lot, but it's clearly just a stalking horse for attacks on contraception and other health care—such as Pap smears and STI testing—associated with women choosing to have sex.

But here is where it is not reality: All together now: 97 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are not abortion. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are, by definition, largely attacks on non-abortion services. Attacks on Planned Parenthood's funding, regardless of claimed intent, are strictly attacks on contraception, STI testing/treatment, and cancer screenings.

Media Matters provides a nice little chart, so that those who struggle to understand that 97 is bigger than three can get a visual reference:

In fact, the group prevents over 200,000 abortions a year, and could do much more if the right quit attacking them for fulfilling their actual mission: dispensing routine gynecological care at a reasonable price. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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