Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
It has now been just over a month since John Boehner stepped down from his position as Speaker of the House, and it appears that the dust has finally settled. Paul Ryan was elected as the new speaker this past week, and Democrats and Republicans alike seem to think that he might be able to help unite an extremely fragmented House and GOP. More imminently, it seems he might actually help us avoid a government shutdown because unlike other conservatives in the House, he doesn’t have an uncompromising agenda to defund Planned Parenthood.
In an interview this past Sunday with CNN, Ryan said in regards to pulling funding for the organization that, “I think we need to be very clear about what it is we can and cannot achieve and not set expectations that we know we can’t reach given the constraints of the Constitution.” Beyond appreciation of Ryan’s realism in place of the hyper-partisan steadfastness we are becoming accustomed to in today’s political climate, I’m breathing an extra sigh of relief because Planned Parenthood will live to see another day (hopefully more than just one).
States like Alabama and Louisiana have already made moves to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. This backlash came in the aftermath of videos that were released in August that seemed to portray the organization as selling fetal tissue to research organizations for scientific purposes. The federal government has intervened by threatening to revoke all health care aid to states that attempt to terminate their relationship with Planned Parenthood, and courts have blocked other states’ efforts as well. GOP members have formed a special committee to investigate the group, so the issue seems to be far from resolved, and will likely continue to be politicized well into the next election cycle.
Planned Parenthood, along with women’s rights as a whole, is not a political nor a partisan issue at all; one can support the respect of women’s health and rights without being pro-choice, just like one can support Planned Parenthood without condoning abortions or reimbursements for the transfer of fetal tissue for the purpose of scientific research (a practice which Planned Parenthood has since discontinued).
What is scary about this ordeal is that the release of a few videos, videos that have been largely discredited as being at least partially misrepresentative, has caused another partisan battle over women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights and women’s health. After all, Senator Wendy Davis’ eleven hour filibuster to prevent the passage of anti-abortion legislation in Texas in 2013 was just one of several states to attempt, and eventually succeed, in passing anti-abortion legislation.
Though the Supreme Court has upheld a woman’s right to her own body and to an abortion, states’ rights continue to prevail in that they can still limit or regulate the accessibility of abortions. Perhaps it is best that such a contentious issue be approached through a state-by-state, popular sovereignty-esque method. However, Planned Parenthood is not a symbol of abortion, or pro-choice preferences. Rather it is an organization that provides invaluable health services for women, with less than three percent of its budget going towards controversial abortions. In addition, the funding that is given to Planned Parenthood by the federal government is not permitted to be used on abortions at all. This most controversial component of the organization’s activities is truly the only source of partisan dissent, so to defund an organization that does so much good for women in order to score a few political brownie points without actually creating political change seems like a waste.
We must remember the distinction between issues of legality and morality. If one’s actions conflict with your moral standards, that in of itself is not significant enough to politicize or criminalize the act. Women’s rights ought not to be a partisan issue; let’s not make it one.