Threat to shut down government over abortion was misguided

Photo by Callie Richmond

In recent months, abortion has taken center stage in American politics once again, after a series of undercover videos surfaced that appear to expose Planned Parenthood’s abhorrent practice of illegally profiting by selling tissues and organs to researchers after abortions. 

In response to these alarming revelations, pro-life advocates, including the Texas Alliance for Life, Texans for Life and the National Right to Life Committee, have called on the federal government to defund Planned Parenthood and shift that money to better providers of women’s health services — providers that are not part of the abortion industry. 

Other groups have taken a different approach, suggesting that all options — including those leading to a government shutdown — should be on the table.

But calling for or even considering a federal government shutdown over the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood is a strategy we did not support. It never would have worked, and better options exist for achieving success, like those we’ve taken in Texas.

The Texas Legislature, for example, is funding women’s health services at historically high levels — $284.6 million, including an additional $50 million, for the the 2016-17 biennium — while defunding Planned Parenthood to the tune of nearly $32 million a year, by our estimates.

Low-income women here are far better off without Planned Parenthood. After the Legislature passed Senate Bill 7 in June 2011, Planned Parenthood, which had been the largest provider in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, was no longer eligible to participate.

Now, the Texas Women’s Health Program has more than 4,600 providers across the state. Many of those — including hundreds of federally qualified health centers and physicians offices — offer comprehensive primary and preventive care, in addition to women’s health services, to tens of thousands of low-income women annually. Compare that to a few-dozen Planned Parenthood facilities that fail to meet that level of care at any of its sites. A list of 547 mammogram machines licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services does not include any Planned Parenthood facilities.

The reality is that President Obama is determined to continue funding Planned Parenthood and has promised to veto any attempt by Congress to reduce or eliminate their vast federal funding stream, $400 million per year. Moreover, the U.S. Senate lacks the 60-vote super-majority required to move such a bill. No pro-life bill considered in the Senate so far this year has garnered more than 54 votes. The required two-thirds majority for a veto override seems even further out of reach.

Many people are unaware that the vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes through the Medicaid program, which is not part of the discretionary budget currently being considered. If the government were to shut down, resulting in harm to millions of Americans, Planned Parenthood would still have gotten paid. The organization would no doubt have laughed as pro-life Congressional leaders took the blame and the Republican brand took a serious hit.

A far better option is for the Senate and House to use the process of “reconciliation” to remove Planned Parenthood funding from all appropriations through the end of the fiscal year (September 2016). That process only requires a simple majority in both chambers, not the usual 60-vote margin in the Senate, which seems achievable.

That strategy could get a bill to President Obama’s desk. Yes, he would veto it, but Obama would be forced to publically defend massive funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that engages in behavior so repugnant that much of the nation was shocked to learn about it. That strategy would help, not harm, the chance of electing a pro-life president who will champion efforts to defund Planned Parenthood while providing access to high quality medical services for low-income women.

Joe Pojman

Executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life