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Stop witch hunts against Planned Parenthood, stem-cell research

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Congress plays politics with women’s lives, rights

The Religious Right in Congress is fast-tracking efforts to vilify Planned Parenthood after the release of heavily edited videos meant to stir up controversy over fetal tissue used for medical research. Some are even hysterically threatening to shut down the government Oct. 1 if Planned Parenthood isn’t defunded. The “sting” videos were the work of the laughably named Center for Medical Progress.

Margaret Sanger, Library of Congress via Wikimedia

Up to 2.7 million women and men annually visit Planned Parenthood clinics, largely to obtain contraception, thereby preventing more than 500,000 unintended pregnancies a year, which you’d think antiabortionists would applaud. Originally founded by Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood laudably also provides 400,000 Pap tests, about 500,000 breast exams, over 4 million tests and treatments for STDs, including 700,000 HIV tests.

Only 3 percent of all Planned Parenthood services are related to abortion. And federal funds are already prohibited for most abortions due to the Hyde Amendment.

Until the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling last year, we thought we’d won the contraceptive battle in 1965, with Griswold v. Connecticut finding a precious right to privacy over reproductive choices. The court compared the state’s contraception interference to something worse than an “invasion of the government and its employees of the sanctity” of one’s home, calling it an invasion of an “indefensible right of personal security, personal liberty.

Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood and those rights to personal security and liberty are escalating. The House Judiciary Committee held the first of a series of anti-Planned Parenthood hearings on Sept. 9. It was titled “Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” (So much for any attempt at objectivity.)

Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a Christian Science practitioner and “family values” panderer who brags that he’s part of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, used ignorant and inflammatory language in his opening statement. He referred to the products of abortion (embryos or fetuses) as “unborn children.” Goodlatte termed safe and legal abortion an “atrocity.” Ironically, his own church is truly responsible for atrocities against children — needless suffering and deaths, due to the church’s reckless indoctrination of followers to eschew medical care for treatable diseases and conditions.

No representative of Planned Parenthood was invited to testify. As even Goodlatte noted, “Some members have questioned why our investigation is focused on the conduct of Planned Parenthood, and not on the conduct of those who obtained the undercover footage.”

Goodlatte used the occasion to also press for a blanket federal abortion ban after 20 weeks, in violation of Roe v. Wade. That decision explicitly notes that a state may choose to regulate or even proscribe abortion subsequent to viability (around 22 to 24 weeks of gestation), “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health” of the pregnant woman. Antiabortionists, as the saying goes, care passionately about human life — from conception all the way until birth, that is. Sacrificing the life or health of a pregnant woman is fine by them.

Such bans have been enacted in many states, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. Wisconsin’s ban, soon to go into effect, provides no exception for rape victims or severe fetal anomalies and subjects providers to three years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 17 called “Protecting Infants: Ending Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Providers Who Violate the Law.” The House Oversight Committee also plans on its own witch-hunt hearing at the end of September. This partisan campaign is taking aim at Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice.

Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation and an FFRF honorary director, said it best in her Aug. 5 op-ed in The New York Times, “How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood,” pointing out that nearly one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime:

“We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right. The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths, we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat.”

But the “keep ’em barefoot and pregnant” congressional crowd isn’t only seeking to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortions. The attack extends to halting or crippling stem-cell research. Fetal tissue is instrumental in developing the vaccines we use to save babies’ lives and treating other serious medical conditions. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies came from cell lines from tissue from two elective abortions performed in Europe in the 1960s.

Rubella (German measles) previously caused 5,000 miscarriages a year. Fetal tissue was termed “absolutely critical” to development of a promising Ebola vaccine. The use of fetal tissue for research from abortions, tissue that would otherwise be destroyed, is profoundly pro-life.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank is sounding the alarm against a Republican bill to ban the use of fetal tissue. Blank pointed out if the bill becomes law, it would be a “direct hit” on the UW and “a threat to one of our strongest areas in terms of our reputation in the sciences.” Even the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s big-business lobby, opposes the bill.

Pollitt warns, “On the issue of fetal-tissue research, we need to hear loud and clear from the scientific community. Anti-abortion activists are calling for a ban on this research, which ironically is used primarily to find treatments for sick babies. Will scientists let that happen?”

She adds, “Planned Parenthood is big. It estimates that one in five women have visited its clinics for health care. But the implications of the video sting, and the congressional scrutiny Planned Parenthood now faces, are even bigger. They’re about whether Americans will let anti-abortion extremists control the discourse and dictate the agenda around reproductive rights, medicine and scientific research. Silence, fear, shame, stigma. That’s what they’re counting on. Will enough of us come forward to win back the ground we’ve been losing?”

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One Response

  1. The primary problem with Planned Parenthood is that it wears two hats. On the one hand, Planned Parenthood Federation of America is a provider of government-subsidized community clinical services. On the other hand, Planned Parenthood America is a political advocacy group that lobbies against restrictions on abortion and on other controversial issues. Planned Parenthood also contributes to political campaigns and endorses candidates that reflect the organization’s perspectives.

    An organization that actively participates in the political arena but also relies on large amounts of government funding will always be targeted by elected officials that it has opposed for office and elected officials that disagree with the organization’s political messages. Thus, Planned Parenthood, and not the publicly-funded clinical services it provides, has become the center of controversy and, as a political player, it has become and will remain a political target.

    By straddling the fence and attempting to be both a political force and a service provider reliant on government funding, Planned Parenthood’s political notoriety endangers funding for the health services that are clearly needed by women across America. One organizational identity should become two completely separate and distinct organizations – one of which is a community service provider reliant on public funding and the other a privately funded political action group.