Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Unplanned Commentary

If ever there were a valid argument against the merits of higher education, Robert P. George and Carter Snead would be its embodiment. The former a decorated Princeton professor, the latter a Notre Dame fellow of ethics, they have conjoined their fatuous mythologies of reality in a piece entitled "Planned Parenthood's Hostages" which ran in the WSJ on 2/6/12. Despite being authored by not one, but two extremely-well-educated gentlemen, the article is heady and illogical. So much so that I felt the need to deconstruct it sentence-by-sentence:
The Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization dedicated since 1982 to fighting, and one day curing, breast cancer, decided to extricate itself from the culture wars by discontinuing grants to Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of abortions. 
First off, claiming that Susan G. Komen's defunding of Planned Parenthood was anything but a firm step into the culture wars (especially in light of Karen Handel's revelation during resignation) is a sentiment so brazenly stupid that I wouldn't even accuse the authors themselves of believing it. Indeed, the braying comments in the WSJ decrying Planned Parenthood's "abortion mill" affirm what the statement actually is: a blatant and convenient lie that no one with any degree of intelligence and independent thought would take seriously for a second, liberal or conservative.
The grants Komen had been making amounted to $650,000 last year, funding some 19 local Planned Parenthood programs that offered manual breast exams but only referrals for mammograms performed elsewhere.
 As has been covered elsewhere, no OB-GYN performs mammograms. Instead their patients are examined and, if the doctor has cause for concern, referred to the radiology department. To imply that Planned Parenthood's role in breast cancer screening is in any way unnecessary is to imply that patients march into radiology with a self-diagnosis and pay out-of-pocket, and that all OB-GYNs relegate themselves to below-the-waist examinations only. It is also worth noting that Planned Parenthood subsidizes mammograms for its patients.
The reality is that Planned Parenthood—with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion—does little in the way of screening for breast cancer. But the organization is very much in the business of selling abortions—more than 300,000 in 2010, according to Planned Parenthood. At an average cost of $500, according to various sources including Planned Parenthood's website, that translates to about $164 million of revenue per year.
Firstly, no one "sells" abortions. Regardless of how you feel about them they are medical procedures and need to be performed by doctors. Even if you are in the "only if the life of the mother is endangered" camp you should agree with this one. Rick Santorum's wife was not "sold" an abortion. Second, Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization. To imply that someone is greatly profiting off the abortions is to (1) ignore that 84% of Planned Parenthood's revenue does not come from abortion, and (2) seed the notion that this is a for-profit business vs a women's health charity. Just because you dislike a charity, it does not mean it is not a charity.
So how did Planned Parenthood and its loyal allies in politics and the media react to Komen's efforts to be neutral in the controversy over abortion?
Reiteration of previous fatuousness.
Faced with even the tiniest depletion in the massive river of funds Planned Parenthood receives yearly, the behemoth mobilized its enormous cultural, media, financial and political apparatus to attack the Komen Foundation in the press, on TV and through social media.
Except that Planned Parenthood is not like the army, with a central control that sends out the order to the compliant minions. In fact, my biggest beef with this article is how it constantly refers to Planned Parenthood as the actor in all of this. In fact, Planned Parenthood issued a statement and a call for emergency donations to match the missing funding from Komen's withdrawal. The thousands of people protesting the decision were not mindless drones obeying central command--they were people like me: thoughtful individuals who recognize that pulling a service that provides over 17,000 women with preventative treatment under the guise of ethics is not in and of itself an ethical decision.
Planned Parenthood's "apparatus" is not a subservient conglomerate of yes-men. It's a cohesive group of people who support its mission statement and practices.
The organization's allies demonized the charity, attempting to depict the nation's most prominent anti-breast cancer organization as a bedfellow of religious extremists. A Facebook page was set up to "Defund the Komen Foundation." In short, Planned Parenthood took breast-cancer victims as hostages.
This is perhaps the best paragraph in the article. The logistical backflips one would have to do to justify that statement is beyond me. Perhaps someone can help?

  1. Planned Parenthood supporters claim that Susan G. Komen is pandering to religious extremism.
  1. Someone creates a Facebook group called "Defund the Komen Foundation."
  1. ????
  1. Planned Parenthood takes cancer victims hostage.

Clearly if there is a large national charity going around holding people hostage, the FBI needs to get involved.
Even if Planned Parenthood has the power to completely defund Susan G. Komen's operations (which, by the way, it obviously doesn't), to claim that the mass protest of the decision held anyone "hostage" is hyperbolic and ridiculous. Equating Susan G. Komen with the healthcare professionals who actively treat breast cancer is like comparing Green Peace to actual trees. Yes, Green Peace helps keep the trees around, but if Green Peace suddenly shuts down for a few days it's not as if all the trees in the world will simultaneously implode.
It also negates the reality of the situation, which is that some people decry Komen's defundingKomen rep claimed donations had risen 100% since the announcement was made. To claim that Planned Parenthood and its supporters held Komen "hostage" is to completely negate the existence of anyone who supported the defunding. There were plenty of people defending Komen and rallying against Planned Parenthood. It's just more convenient for George and Snead to pretend that those people don't exist. (And if they don't exist, who exactly is getting all mad about Planned Parenthood?)
Finally, it ignores the 17,000+ women who would have lost preventative care through the de-fund. If that isn't holding a group of people "hostage" (via George and Snead's definition) then what is?
Komen's leaders had good reason to believe their organization could disintegrate under Planned Parenthood's assault. 
It seemed more likely that Komen hadn't realized how many of its donations came from people who also support Planned Parenthood. I doubt that Komen was facing bankruptcy, but I imagine a large percentage of their base didn't like the sound of their actions. Since this is America, and not my home country of England, it is 100% within the people's right to decide when they want to stop supporting a cause. (And for those of you who will whine about not having a choice about "supporting" Planned Parenthood with your tax dollars, please do skip to the Appendix).
Among Komen's reasons for discontinuing grants to Planned Parenthood was its policy of avoiding entanglements with entities under government investigation. Planned Parenthood has been and is under congressional and criminal investigation (by attorneys general, local prosecutors and various regulatory agencies in Arizona, Indiana, Alabama, Kansas and Texas) for allegations including failure to report criminal child sex abuse, misuse of health-care and family-planning funds, and failure to comply with parental-involvement laws regarding abortions.
George and Snead fail to mention that this was a new policy under which only Planned Parenthood would lose funding, despite other institutions (most notably, Penn State) also under criminal investigation continuing to receive funding. If a policy is not enacted fairly it's only natural for the foundation's supporters to protest. The fact is that none of Komen's money contributed to abortions or to Sandusky's defense fund--and neither of the grant recipients should lose their funding status.
Planned Parenthood is very far from the uncontroversial organization the Susan G. Komen Foundation aspires to be. According to its most recent annual report, for 2010, Planned Parenthood sells abortions to nine out of every 10 pregnant women who come to its clinics.
This is just a lie. George and Snead pull their data from Planned Parenthood's 2010 annual report (just released) which indicates that 329,445 abortions were performed in 2010 while 31,098 women received pre-natal care. This gives you a 9/10 number but it's facetious because it doesn't prove that 9/10 pregnant women who entered Planned Parenthood facilities walked out having had an abortion. All it proves is that ten times as many women received abortions than prenatal care, which makes even more sense when you consider that prenatal care is covered by Medicaid while abortion is not. This means that low-income women have the option of visiting any doctor who accepts Medicaid for prenatal care; however Planned Parenthood is one of the few abortion providers in America. Therefore it makes sense that relatively few women would use Planned Parenthood for prenatal care (an ongoing service which needs to be convenient to a woman's work/home) while a much larger group (comprising any woman who wants an abortion, regardless of income) would use them for an abortion.
 And it's known throughout the country as an implacable and aggressive opponent of any meaningful restrictions on deliberate feticide.
This is a worthless sentiment to end on because "meaningful restriction" does not in and of itself have a meaning. What is a "meaningful restriction" on abortion? If we had a consensus on that, we wouldn't have such a raging political debate. Therefore to accuse Planned Parenthood of aggressively opposing "meaningful restrictions" on abortion is absolutely meaningless. (Although of course in context we can infer that George and Snead mean restricting abortion based on some set of variables that may include: rape, illness, potential fatality, incest, etc. Then again, their personal interpretation of "meaningful restrictions" should not be used to gauge the efficacy of a national organization). Also "it's known" is a deceitful way of side-stepping journalistic integrity.
Planned Parenthood has spent millions fighting even those legislative initiatives that command extremely wide public support, such as laws requiring parental notification and informed consent for abortions, and those banning late-term abortions when the child developing in the womb is fully viable. Planned Parenthood even opposes a bill recently introduced in Congress to ban abortions for the purpose of sex selection.
When George and Snead say "has spent millions fighting... such as" they actually mean "has spent (unknown sum) on legal defense when they are accused of violating..." Likewise when they claim that Planned Parenthood opposed a bill to ban sex selection they are actually referring to an interview with Planned Parenthood director of the Waterloo area in Canada, Angie Murie, whose opinion is not worth quoting here since nothing she does affects United States citizens in any way. They may have been referring to a letter supposedly authored by Planned Parenthood and NARAL against the PRENDA bill (if someone can find the full text of this letter at a credible source please let me know--I've only been able to find the same excerpt in a series of pro-life articles), which is pointless debating anyway because the PRENDA bill is complete garbage and anyone with a little intelligence and understanding of the law can see that it doesn't have a snowball-in-hell's chance of passing any level of government in its current form.
It is easy to see why Komen might not wish to be associated with Planned Parenthood. Fighting breast cancer is something all Americans can and do agree on; promoting and performing abortions is something that divides us bitterly.
Except that by partnering with Planned Parenthood Komen sends the clear message that breast-cancer is indeed above politics, and that both sides of the political spectrum can come together to help prevent further loss of life from the disease. By defunding Planned Parenthood Komen sent the message that only pro-life women are entitled to breast cancer treatment. Which actually isn't very pro-life at all.
In 2010, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress risked and narrowly averted the rejection of their signature health-care law in order to block the inclusion of provisions (such as the 1970s Hyde Amendment) that prevent federal abortion funding. At the 11th hour, a handful of "pro-life" Democrats capitulated, giving Mr. Obama and Planned Parenthood their victory.
Referring to the Stupak-Pitts amendment, I fail to understand how agreeing to cut federal funding for abortion could be considered a victory for Planned Parenthood.
Also in 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to withhold billions of dollars in Medicaid funds from those states such as Indiana that prohibit state funding of Planned Parenthood and other entities that provide elective abortions. Planned Parenthood strongly opposed Indiana's attempt to cut off its funding and celebrated the federal government's intervention. Indiana is currently litigating the matter in federal court.
This is not the action of Planned Parenthood. George and Snead seem to confuse "Planned Parenthood" with "every pro-choice person and organization in the country."
Most recently, after intense lobbying, the Department of Health and Human Services did the bidding of Planned Parenthood by imposing a mandate on virtually all employers to provide insurance coverage (without cost-sharing) for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives. This threatens to force many religiously affiliated charitable institutions out of the business of providing education, health care and social services to the poor.
Keyword here is "all." In fact, religious institutions are specifically exempt. If the organization isn't exempt, clearly it isn't religious enough. Also: this doesn't prevent anyone from providing education, health care, and/or social services to the poor. The only thing it does is prevent non-religious-exempt employers from not offering full healthcare services to their employees. Employers have a choice: either offer health insurance, or don't. Since their employees apparently don't need these services, it shouldn't be too much of a burden to offer them anyway, since no one will be taking.

If George and Snead had just been honest and straightforward in their article, saying something along the lines of:
We both have a moral and ethical problem with abortion. We were glad when Komen decided to defund Planned Parenthood because it would deal another blow to the organization, and hopefully bolster our efforts to outlaw it entirely. When Komen reversed its decision we felt betrayed, and we were angry at everyone who turned out in support of Planned Parenthood. We still think abortion is murder and that the law should prosecute anyone who commits it to the fullest extent.
then I wouldn't have given it a second thought. It's this smarmy, illogical, narrative-based demonization that I disagree with, one that points to Planned Parenthood and claims that there is a plot to persuade black women to abort their babies for profit. Face it, that's not what's going on. Instead there just happen to be plenty of people, myself included, who prefer the option of deciding when we want to have children in order to give that child/those children the best possible experiences. I don't have a problem with killing a fetus. You do. That's what the abortion debate boils down to. It isn't a conspiracy on either side, just a profound ideological difference.

Now, if I were a conservative I wouldn't be very happy with this article either. It's far too easy to poke holes in and the arguments are at best unsound, at worst completely loony. It's about time that conservative commentators began hewing to provable facts and statements instead of fudging and misrepresenting everything until all that comes out is obvious BS.