The ruckus about Planned Parenthood is a great example of using a contentious, binary argument (abortion) to shroud a societal issue that is much more stubborn and pervasive (poverty). If you are a politician, taking a firm stance either for or against abortion at least assures you will have a large group of people standing with you, regardless of the side you chose. But introducing legislation genuinely aimed at trying to reduce the scope of a multifactorial, racially-tinged, societal blight that has been plaguing us since the dawn of civilization is not exactly a “safe” road to travel. It’s more like going for the win in the Indy 500 wearing just your undies and skipping the seat belts: even if you’re not the one that causes the crash, you are still going down in flames. The abortion issue will never be resolved, simply because there is no answer. In an idealistic world, we would never ask the question, but our world is far from ideal. It is reasonable for an individual to take the stance that they will never personally support abortion in any form. But, unfortunately, our society as a whole – and that includes our government – doesn’t get off that easy. Look at international relations: should we go to war with China? After all, they continue to have state-mandated abortions. Think on that: here, we argue about whether or not a teenage girl in poverty with no support is able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy; but in other countries, authorities force pregnancy screening and will kill a wanted child in the womb of a loving mother. Funny that we don’t see many folks protesting…
Probably the biggest difficulty that Planned Parenthood faces is rooted in statistics: we can count abortions, but there is no way to count the number of prevented pregnancies. I will ask you this: isn’t it better to provide services that allow a teenage girl in an under-resourced environment where everything – parental guidance, education, healthcare, even basic needs like food and shelter – is a struggle, to not get pregnant; as opposed to preventing that abortion, resulting in a child born into those same conditions, and all but assuring that the mother will never climb out of her situation, continuing the cycle of poverty and adding to its participants? I will answer for you: it’s not only better, it’s tremendously better. But the scoreboard never reflects the results. It’s much easier to simply say “abortions: no” than it is to delve into the dirty complexities.
But that’s reality.
I have two teenage daughters. As a physician, I have seen enough “it-will-never-happen-to-me” parents to know that my family is not immune to any situation. But I know that the funding or defunding of Planned Parenthood is not going to directly affect us. Because we are not poor. We have the resources to deal with whatever comes our way. We have the luxury of idealism. Not everyone has that luxury. Planned Parenthood by definition is serving the under-resourced, and we cannot ignore the spectrum of differences in our situations throughout society. And don’t pretend that because it doesn’t affect you directly, that it doesn’t affect you at all. We all have to deal with the burdens of poverty.
If you are idealistic and you struggle with these issues, consider this: poverty is essentially fertilizer for evil. Crime, drugs, terrorism, abortions, you name it, it’s rooted in poverty, whether here or abroad. Ghengis Khan, Hitler, ISIS, Osama Bin Laden, the downtrodden are ripe to be steered towards a goal, with nothing to lose. Realistically, it will never be eliminated. But it is essential that we do everything possible to mitigate its effects. And that means we throw all of our collective resources at it, whether those are social, educational, or medical.
No, I am not a fan of abortions, and I would also vote for a reality where the question was purely hypothetical. But it’s not. As always, it’s complicated. It can’t be reduced to a binary decision based on one facet. It has to be put into context with contingencies in place to balance the effects of our decisions, not just on an individual, but on society as a whole. Planned Parenthood is not a binary institution, it is a complex organization addressing a complex problem. So don’t try to reduce it to a “yes or no” question.