Conservatives, Planned Parenthood Is the Wrong Target

Poverty fighter: the IUD
Poverty fighter: the IUD

by James A. Bacon

Like millions of other Americans, I was horrified by the videos detailing the traffic in aborted fetal tissues and organs in which Planned Parenthood takes part. But I’m not joining the parade of conservatives calling for the de-funding of the organization. Not only would de-funding be a meaningless gesture — Planned Parenthood doesn’t use federal funds to finance its abortion operations — it would not address the complex moral trade-offs arising from the harvesting and sale of fetal parts. That trade would continue even if Planned Parenthood shut down tomorrow.

What Planned Parenthood does use federal money for is family planning, pregnancy tests and prenatal care for low-income women. While conservatives have legitimate reasons to oppose abortions — I share some of their reservations, especially concerning late-term abortions — conservatives should support Planned Parenthood’s distribution of contraceptives on the grounds that family planning is the most effective anti-poverty (and anti-abortion) program we know of.

Poverty in America is intractable. Fifty years after Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, we’re still fighting it. The usual liberal solution — spending more money on income transfers and creating new poverty-fighting bureaucracies — is not working. Indeed, the liberal paradigm perpetuates poverty by weakening the incentive of poor people to lift themselves from their condition.

We continually hear that more children live in poverty than adults. That’s because, while many people manage to rise out of poverty, their departure from the ranks of the poor is more than offset by the large number of children born in poor households. Indeed, women in households making less than $10,000 per year give birth at nearly twice the rate of women making $35,000 a year or more, as seen below.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

And that raw fertility number understates the nature of the problem. Poor women also tend to bear children at younger ages than higher-income women, who tend to defer childbirth until after college and marriage. Thus, a poor woman bearing a daughter at age 18, who in turn bears another daughter at age 18, adds two people to the ranks of the poor in the same period of time in which a high-income career woman bearing her first child at age 36 adds to the ranks of the non-poor.

I rarely find myself in agreement with Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, but she has the facts on her side in this instance: Low-income women are no more likely than higher-income women to be sexually active, but they are less likely to use birth control. Thus, says Rampell, a poor woman is more than five times as likely to get pregnant by accident than an affluent woman.

Anyone interested in fighting poverty without expanding the federal entitlement programs that are driving the country toward fiscal insolvency should enthusiastically embrace the policy of giving poor women more control over their fertility. When poor women control their pregnancy, they are likely to have fewer children, and when they do have them, they are more likely to do so at a later date — waiting, perhaps, until after they have graduated from high school, found a job and possess the maturity and financial resources to be a good parent.

Family planning is one of the very few anti-poverty programs that work, and it’s arguably the most cost-effective. Conservatives need to stop venting about Planned Parenthood and turn their attention to the larger and more challenging job of crafting an ethically responsible approach to the trade in fetal organs.

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  1. Jim, you point out valid distinctions, but getting people to make those distinctions is damned difficult. Just ask John Boehner.

  2. Pregnant by accident. Ok…whatever… I ain’t buying it.

  3. Excellent piece, good analysis. I am surprised that there are so few comments.

  4. wrk2, I agree … it made me stop and do some soul searching.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    well, I’ve been mulling it over. Does anyone else see this as not that different from other partisan disagreements we see these days where it’s all or nothing and “compromise” means abandonment of core principles?

    I’m trying to think hard – about what prior compromise we have seen on any issue in the last 6 years.

    I was not surprised … at the approach being used…
    I never assumed that we’d see a compromise proposal.

    other folks are expecting a compromise ?

  6. LarryG, I’m glad you said that. Been mulling it too, and, no, it’s not that different.

    Which brings me to this rant of sorts. It isn’t just in Congress that the art of conversation is dying. I grew up around people who could talk. They could talk your head off, but they could also make a long evening go past in no time; around a dinner table or a campfire it didn’t matter. They knew how to sustain a conversation, how to feed the discussion by steering it to things the others wanted to discuss. They could sense what for someone present was a don’t go-there, black-hole kind of topic and steer around its edges, or find a conversational path in a new direction. They enjoyed the art of talking so much that they would keep the conversation going even with people they fundamentally disagreed with. They had come to realize that sometime observations from “the other side” of an issue were interesting to talk about, too.

    You and I know of course that Congress is not a social body; but what’s died over there is the instinct to keep the conversation going. Now, it’s my (strident) way or the highway. You probably saw the news clip yesterday that captured this scene: “attendees at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., broke out in applause at the news of Boehner’s resignation. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., informed the audience of the speaker’s decision, and the crowd erupted in a standing ovation.” To me Senator Rubio looked disgusted at the poor taste of that outburst but what could he say or do? They were cheering because they had knocked off the one man who took seriously his duty, as Speaker, to keep the political conversation alive. Rubio knows better than most how counterproductive that will prove to be.

    On the contrary, I think Boehner resigned in order to keep the conversation alive just a little longer, to get past the current funding crisis and the mindless rhetoric on Planned Parenthood. When people aim their conversational venom at you personally, your presence has become the problem — so, leave. After that? The flamers and trolls will redouble their efforts on Fox News and MSNBC, I suppose. No one is expecting a compromise there!

    Jim has put together in this blog a conversation we need to sustain. Especially because we don’t always agree.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      @Acbar – I appreciate your thoughts – truly and I take some schooling from it also.

      thank you.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I’m not opposed to spending federal tax dollars on making birth control accessible to low income women. But I am confused as to why Planned Parenthood will need funding if and when the Medicaid expansion and the ACA is covering birth control methods. Is this a transition issue or the typical Washington Way that once an entity receives funding, such funding never quits? What is happening in the states where Medicaid has been expanded to cover lower-income working adults? I would think funding for Planned Parenthood should be reduced in those jurisdiction. Are jobs for the professional caring class forever?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      @TMT – what about states that did not do the Expansion?

      and I don’t know how birth control for low income women has anything to do with the professional caring class… that just seems to be more partisan flavor to me.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, my question was directed only at the states where Medicaid expansion has occurred. If any person can get birth control coverage under insurance or under Medicaid in State A, why should Congress fund Planned Parenthood in that state? There may be a reason to do so, but I’d like to know what it is.

        Absent some compelling information, I strongly suspect that recognizing the ACA and Medicaid expansion (where it has occurred) negates the need to fund Planned Parenthood in such states and, if it is being done, it is to keep Planned Parenthood employing people. It may be no different than FCPS, where senior budget officials told me (and a number of others in Fairfax County) that the Division used Stimulus money to save staff jobs.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I suspect that Planned Parenthood offers services that Medicaid does not but if there is duplication, I’d agree – but I’d like to see the duplication made known BEFORE the effort to defund.

          all the stimulus was – was an attempt to keep money moving … do you remember the make-work-pay credit? what do you think that was about? it was nothing more than money to prime the economic pump.

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            That’s my point. No one connected with the federal government would ever look into the issue and tell the truth. Nor would the MSM.

            As far as the FCPS staff whose jobs were saved, a number have been eliminated as the Stimulus went away, strongly suggesting the jobs were never needed.

            The federal government is filthy corrupt. No nonprofit that hire staff or third parties for lobbying/government relations should have a tax exempt status to match the prohibition against writing off lobbying expenses against taxable income.

  8. This thread of comments is wishful thinking. People used to be great conversationalists. Maybe that will return and politicians will start talking to each other and working “across the aisle”. The implied theory is that Americans have somewhat accidentally fallen into bad habits and those bad habits have translated into political gridlock. In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth. There has been nothing accidental about the deterioration of American politics. We have witnessed a steady, planned regression of our political leadership caused by money and greed. It will only be reversed when the American people overtly overthrow the existing oligarchy and replace it with a truly democratic process led by honest citizens who run for office to serve their country instead of running in a mad lust for money and power.

    Until this month I don’t believe I have ever agreed with Jimmy Carter. I always thought he was an honest and honorable man but I never agreed with his policies. That changed when he went on Oprah and some of his comments were pre-released:

    “We’ve become now an oligarchy instead of a democracy. And I think that’s been the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards of the American political system that I’ve ever seen in my life,” the 90-year-old former president told Winfrey.

    “There’s no way now for you to get the Democratic or Republican nomination without being able to raise two or three hundred million dollars, or more,” Carter said. “I would not be inclined to do that, and I would not be capable of doing it.”

    Unfortunately, the money in politics isn’t limited to the cost of campaigns. Our political class has discovered that a career in politics can be extremely lucrative at the personal level. We all know about the McDonnell affair and Hillary Clinton’s personal financial dealings appear to be even shadier than McDonnell’s. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. Harry Reid turned a career in public service into a personal fortune:

    Obama entered into a very fishy deal with now convicted felon (and longtime Obama fundraiser) Tony Rezko.

    There are certainly some honest politicians. Jimmy Carter seems to be one. Gerry Baliles is another. Regardless of their positions on the issues I see Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders as fundamentally honest as well.

    The problem is that the percentage of politicians who are honest has been declining as the amount of money in politics has been rising. So, if you are one of the majority of US politicians who are fundamentally dishonest how do you maximize your gain? You create division in the populace. You vilify the “one percent” or Planned Parenthood. Nothing brings out the checkbooks like good old fashioned anger. Those paychecks fund campaigns and line the pockets of unscrupulous politicians from Washington, DC to Richmond to Fairfax, Va.

    The other problem with letting the oligarchy run the country is the endless expansion of government. An expansive government with endless regulation and legislation is more valuable to those who seek to buy that government than a less expansive government. Ethanol in gasoline. Thank the Farm Bureau. The UN IPCC released studies in 2014 showing that the adverse environmental impact of growing the corn was worse than the air pollution reduction of adding ethanol to gasoline. The politicians didn’t care. The IPCC doesn’t line their pockets, the Farm Bureau does.

    Wishing that a return to social graces (like good conversation) will reform the oligarchy in US politics is wishful thinking indeed. The only thing that will change the current political fiasco in America is an overthrow of the government and the oligarchy that effectively runs that government. Let’s all hope that overthrow occurs and let’s all hope it occurs through the ballot box rather than by watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    @don – re: the “overthrow”. you’re expecting the American people themselves to agree on who the leaders should be?

    You know – when people can listen to the same words like from the Pope and get different meanings… or people cannot agree on what the role of the SCOTUS is (or is not) – I’m thinking – even if both sides (or more) agree than an overthrow is needed – I strongly suspect they don’t agree at all on who should be the leader to succeed the overthrown.

    There’s more than money at issue and here’s an example. I haven’t heard many, if any, say that the SCOTUS is corrupted by money – but there is violent disagreement about how they decide issues… no money – just strong philosophical disagreements.

    At some point, if things continue – I expect Congress to not even be able to agree on a SCOTUS appointment – they’ll just leave it open!

    1. What always happens when the people’s faith in their government falls to an abysmal level? What happened to the Czars? What happened to King George? What happened to Chaing Kai Shek?

      This can only go on for so long before there is a cataclysmic change …

      Summary – our government (at all levels) sucks out loud.

      Ballots or bullets LarryG – something is going to give.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    I like to use this video to explain why compromise is the only path forward. The choice is compromise or bullets…

    No, you can’t always get what you want
    You can’t always get what you want
    You can’t always get what you want
    But if you try sometime you find
    You get what you need

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    @tmt – re:

    ” That’s my point. No one connected with the federal government would ever look into the issue and tell the truth. Nor would the MSM.”

    Oh balderdash…. We have tons more right-wing media these days…

    “As far as the FCPS staff whose jobs were saved, a number have been eliminated as the Stimulus went away, strongly suggesting the jobs were never needed.”

    the point of the stimulus was not jobs needed. It was to helicopter money into the economy to try to keep it from spiraling into a deflationary depression. The jobs could be temporary – even not needed – because the point was to inject money…

    The make-work-pay credit – a $400 credit on the income tax – was what? just more helicopter money in an attempt to prevent a liquidity trap.

    “The federal government is filthy corrupt. No nonprofit that hire staff or third parties for lobbying/government relations should have a tax exempt status to match the prohibition against writing off lobbying expenses against taxable income.”

    I guess one way to look at this is can/should any organization profit or non-profit – or even local govt -or local schools – be able to lobby govt over legislation that could affect their interests?

    so we’re spending local taxes to send lobbyists to Richmond and Washington to lobby …

    I don’t really have a problem with that. I do have a problem with money and gifts… free travel, etc..

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