Last Friday, the House voted to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood. This comes on the heels of the overly long Republican debate, where former HP CEO Carly Fiorina gave an impassioned pro-life speech. It wasn’t long before Twitter blew up with the hashtag #IStandWithPP and hundreds of thousands of people giving their reasons for why that money for Planned Parenthood is necessary.
I won’t say the dust has settled – not by a long shot – but I’d hope that with a few days distance, people have calmed slightly. The first thing we need to look at is where this bill is going. It may have passed the House, but its next stop is the Senate, where pundits say it is highly unlikely to pass. On the off-chance it does, President Obama has said he will veto the bill.
So while by no means a slam-dunk guarantee, we can be reasonably certain the federal dollars that help Planned Parenthood provide its many, many needed services will get to where it needs to go.
This next part is going to be some regurgitation. As in, this is all stuff you’ve probably heard before, but for the few of you who’ve stumbled here and haven’t, maybe this will enlighten you. Planned Parenthood supporters have pointed out over and over again just how they use their budget. The vast majority of the money goes toward preventive care, birth control, family planning services, and screenings for cancer, diabetes, and STDs, including HIV. Roughly 3% of people who walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic are there for an abortion or abortion-related service. And PP is not allowed to use federal money for that particular service, nor do all of their clinics provide it. NPR did a story last month breaking down the services offered and the money used and received that helps explain that 3%, as well as the remainder of the budget. The Washington Post ran an opinion piece penned by a former PP lobbyist and overseer, running through the top five most common myths about PP. Please take the time to read these. So many people who are against PP and the services they provide haven’t bothered to educate themselves, or they’re simply parroting what they’ve heard and calling it educated. Don’t be one of them. Read the facts and then draw your conclusions. If you don’t want to use the links I’ve provided, run a Google search of your own.
Some people wanted to make the argument that the contraceptive services provided by PP aren’t necessary because of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The reason? The ACA mandates that everyone must have health insurance, and not having health insurance is illegal. Since health insurance has to cover birth control, and you are legally required to have health insurance, PP is no longer a player in this game.
C’mon, everyone, laugh with me. Then sigh.
I’m going to unpack this just a bit. One, just because it’s illegal not to have insurance doesn’t mean people don’t have it. Two, not all health insurance plans are created equal. What a woman has to pay for her preferred method of birth control under her health insurance may be more than she can afford. Three, for some people, Medicaid and other similar state assistance programs may be the only kind of coverage they can get because they can’t afford anything else. And these people in particular are the ones you want to have access to birth control and other family planning services because an unplanned pregnancy puts additional strain on already stressed resources.
Not all doctors are required to accept Medicaid patients. The reimbursement rate for a Medicaid covered service can be low, and for a private practitioner, it simply doesn’t make fiscal sense to accept these sorts of patients. For those affected, Planned Parenthood (and I’d argue other clinics that provide similar services) is their only option.
I also want to point out that the chances that you know someone who has used Planned Parenthood is pretty high. I personally know five people who have used their clinics in the past – and at least one of them still uses them now, even though she has decent health insurance.
Now. Let’s get to what the real issue is here.
The fight over Planned Parenthood is really about sex. It’s about sex and the fact that we live in a country that refuses to acknowledge that your average, red-blooded American has sex. It’s about sex and the fact we glorify teenagers having babies by giving them their own TV shows instead of ensuring they have a proper understanding of how contraceptives work – and why they may not be ready for sexual intercourse.
Dan Savage summed it up best in his book American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. In a chapter titled “Sex Dread“, he points out all the flaws in abstinence and comprehensive sex education. Short version? We’re teaching kids today that sex is a bad thing, and if you absolutely have to have it, you should use a condom, but you really shouldn’t be having sex at all.
The link above is for a preview of the chapter (the full version is not available online). He starts off with statistics and ends with the emails he gets from teens. One study he cites, from York University in Canada, offered a facepalming conclusion: after their sex ed class, teens were unsure if sex was actually supposed to feel good.
We need to accept that people have sex for reasons other than procreation – and they have it often. And this includes people who are too young to fully understand the mental and emotional ramifications of sex. I talked about this in a previous blog post, and in it, I mentioned the date with the guy who spent a year doing everything but sex with his high school girlfriend. And I also said that I didn’t necessarily think teaching foreplay was the answer.
Yeah, I’ve changed my mind. How many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies do you think could be prevented by letting teenagers know that yeah, sex is okay. Sex is quite all right when you’re with a partner who respects and loves you and no, you don’t necessarily need to be married to them. And here are all the other ways you can derive pleasure before you get to penetration, so maybe you should try them first, because that increases the chances your experience will be a lot better.
We can’t keep pretending that unmarried couples sit around in the evening playing checkers (although they probably do that on occasion). We can’t keep clutching our pearls and say, “Well, my child would never have sex outside of marriage.” (Chances are, your kid probably is. Get over it. Then talk to them about it.) Sex happens.
We should put that on a t-shirt. Sex happens.
And because it does, we shouldn’t be allowing rich white men and woman to take away what is, for some, the only option they have to make sure they’re doing it safely.