Planned Parenthood and the government shutdown


Nigel Sumerlin

To avoid seeing, hearing or reading about the video footage depicting Planned Parenthood executives wheeling and dealing aborted fetuses for cash would be an impressive accomplishment. Since the release of the videos by an anti-abortion activist group, the battle over the organization’s government funding has raged, mostly between those already deeply entrenched on either side of the abortion debate.

A Republican-dominated Congress has not surprised America with its response. Divided and loud, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have expressed united outrage and diverging solutions to the emotionally stirring footage.

Republicans have shown to be more than willing to stand their moral ground on this issue, arguing that these videos display Planned Parenthood’s ineligibility for federal funding due to its illegal and unethical treatment of aborted human fetuses. Democrats, of course, have no interest in defunding a program which they see as a necessary service to women across the nation.

On September 18, Congress passed two bills which would, among other things, postpone Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. The bill will not be welcomed by a Democratic senate or White House, though, and government employees around the world are tense to see how Congress will react to a veto or loss in the senate and whether they should brace for another shutdown.

Although I believe that the government should be shut down permanently, I don’t see this situation as the one to accomplish that. “Government shutdown” has a more ambivalent meaning than it implies. Very simply put, it means that Congress has failed to fund an existing agency or operation, and until they pass legislation that does, nonessential government employees will be furloughed and the operations or agencies in question will be temporarily inactive.

The risk of such a shutdown stems from the fact that Planned Parenthood’s funding is included with a more encompassing budget which determines the funding for a plethora of operations. If the House promises to only pass a budget which does not contain funding for the non-profit, while at the same time President Obama guarantees to veto any such bill, we are faced with a classic question: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Now, if Planned Parenthood previously had charges filed against it, or was even unsupported by the majority of Americans, Congress's actions would be understandable. To support an organization which had been proven legally irresponsible or unethical in the eyes of most Americans with American tax dollars would be wrong, indeed. But that isn’t the situation.

The relevant videos have proved to be severely edited in order to appear incriminating. When the complete footage is viewed, it becomes clear that the executives involved had no intention of making a profit, but were donating fetal tissue and using compensation to cover the baseline costs running their organization. However one ethically chooses to view that, it’s clear that Planned Parenthood is within its legal rights.

That means that a terrifying number of members of the 114th Congress of the United States of America are willing to put government employees and systems out of commission based on the hearsay that videos exist which show Planned Parenthood executives performing an abominable action—which never happened.

The obnoxious introduction of more facts complicates the issue further. Abortions comprise only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services, and those abortions are funded by private donors, foundations and fees—not the government. The rest of the non-profit’s budget (of which government funding constitutes more than a third) is used for a contraception, STI testing and treatment, cancer screening and other women’s health services.

While the idiocy in this situation is quite clear, the deeper meaning may not be. Politicians have become intent on walking the party line to the point where they are willing to ignore facts in order to find support from their constituents.

If we can’t expect our politicians to gather facts, how can we trust them at all? Although I write about Republican ignorance in this scenario, the disregard of factual evidence is rampant through both parties on Capitol Hill. This issue, and the unwavering support given to those who propose an ineffective and uninformed showdown with the White House, exhibit the misguided priorities in America—convictions first, reason and evidence second.

Nigel is a sophomore pursuing a double major in history and psychology.