Sasso: Planned Parenthood provides vital services to women

(August 7, 2015)

What if we could invent an organization that would provide cancer screening, birth control and annual health exams for poor women? What if that organization could test for and treat sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections, provide counseling for ending smoking and obesity and screen people for high blood pressure, anemia and diabetes? What if that organization were to have the ability to impact the lives of 11.4 million people in the United States, to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions and make for healthier adults, especially among women? Wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that funds are available for such a group?

But the truth is, we have such an organization, and our government is talking about defunding it. Planned Parenthood is the largest U.S. provider of reproductive health services. The millions of women who are or who have been Planned Parenthood patients attest to its life-saving work. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky serve 67,000 patients a year.

A series of undercover videos show Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions. In one, a Planned Parenthood official stated that affiliates exist to serve patients and not to make money. An edited version of one of the videos did not include that statement or other pertinent words as its creators sought an end to government funding of Planned Parenthood. Despite the Senate’s decision not to proceed with a bill that would stop funding, this issue promises to be part of the election year debate and of a government spending bill.

Let us consider the facts. Planned Parenthood receives 41 percent of its funding from the federal government. It does not use that money to provide abortions. It uses those funds to secure the health of millions of women. Only 3 percent of its work involves abortions, legal abortions.

Planned Parenthood services actually reduce the number of abortions. By preventing one million unintended pregnancies a year, 350,000 abortions are potentially averted. Of the abortions that are done, a small number result in the donation of tissue for research. In these cases, Planned Parenthood strictly follows federal guidelines. The mother must give her consent. There is no profit made.

In the early 1990s there was governmental bipartisan support for collection of fetal tissue research. Both Indiana Sen. Dan Coats and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who were leaders in the recent effort to defund Planned Parenthood, voted in favor of that decision. Why? Fetal cells, which otherwise would have been discarded, are used to save lives. Those cells are used to produce vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chicken pox and shingles. How many politicians have had one or more of these vaccines and have made certain that their children, grandchildren and parents were protected from these diseases? How many want crucial research into spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease to continue?

Ultimately, what is at stake in the debate about Planned Parenthood is women’s health care and access to contraception. Family planning funding has fallen by two-thirds over the years and is now being threatened by more cuts. It makes no sense. Unfortunately, good sense and science are too often discarded in favor of political expediency and blind ideology.

Sasso is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.