Last month, a group with the name Center for Medical Progress started releasing videos claiming that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue. Anti-choicers are always floating ridiculous conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, and unsurprisingly, these videos turned out to be a pile of lies. Despite this, Senate Republicans had a symbolic grandstanding “defund Planned Parenthood” bill and some are calling to shut the government down if Democrats don’t cave into demands to destroy the national chain of women’s health centers.
Because of this, many conservatives — some of them our own relatives — are now spouting a bunch of false talking points about the supposed evils of Planned Parenthood. Here are some tips on how to respond to some of the most common arguments that are floating around.
1. Planned Parenthood is profiting off the illegal sale of “body parts.” It’s the lie that started it all and which conservative media hopes to make true by constant repetition. It’s also 100% false. The Center for Medical Progress has released four videos so far and not one contains a shred of evidence proving the sale of fetal tissue. Every video documents evidence that fetal tissue from abortions is being donated to medical research — which is perfectly legal. The money being discussed is reimbursement for the costs and transportation, and nothing more. The accusation that Planned Parenthood is profiting off abortion or contraception is silly. Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization.
2. Fetal tissue research is wrong! Ask your conservative relative if he would prefer the fetal tissue to be thrown in the trash, since that is the only alternative. While he ponders that, point out that fetal tissue research has been used to develop vaccines and other life-saving treatments, and is currently being used to develop treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Many of the Republicans who are trying to defund Planned Parenthood actually voted for the use of fetal tissue in medical research. If the issue were really fetal tissue research, wouldn’t the smart move be to simply ban that? Instead, Republicans are offering a bill that wouldn’t do anything to stop fetal tissue research but would stop millions of patients from getting affordable contraception. Ask your relative how, exactly, cutting women off from contraception services does a damn thing to address his newfound belief that fetal tissue research is wrong.
3. All of this sounds disgusting, therefore it must be wrong. Your relative will probably note that he finds the process of abortion gross, especially since “gross” has been a popular argument among actual politicians like John Boehner and Bobby Jindal. Point out that most medical procedures are gross, but no one is trying to ban heart surgery on the grounds that it’s hard to look at. More to the point, there’s nothing new about this argument. Anti-choicers have been waving around signs showing fetal body parts for over 40 years now, and it hasn’t changed anything. It might also help to point out to your relative that nearly 9 in 10 abortions happen in the first 12 weeks, which means it’s embryos, not fetuses, being removed, and they range from microscopic to about half an ounce in size. Most abortions resemble little more than a very heavy period.
4. Tone! Now your relative’s back is against the wall, with all the factual claims being disproved. He will probably shift to claiming that the real problem is the doctors in these videos were insufficiently reverent when speaking to people they believed were fellow medical professionals about their work. Agree with your relative that the doctors are blunt and do avoid euphemism, speaking casually about procedures and body parts in a way you or I may not be used to. But this doesn’t mean the doctors speak to their patients this way. Remind your relative that doctors have to do things like dissect dead bodies and study gross diseases. It’s only natural that they start to think of these things in blunt, objective terms. Point out that if we are going to ban medical care in every case where doctors speak bluntly to each other, we would have to ban every kind of medical care, not just abortion.
5. Taxpayer-funded abortions! Multiple politicians and media outlets have been invoking, in the wake of this fake scandal, the idea that “taxpayer-funded abortions” are taking place at Planned Parenthood and this means the organization should be defunded. This is a lie, full stop. The Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976, prevents federal money from funding abortion.
At this point, your relative will start making noises about how money is “fungible.” He is trying to claim that federal funding for contraception “frees up” money for Planned Parenthood to spend on abortion. Tell him that doesn’t make sense, because abortion patients at Planned Parenthood pay for their abortions. Even if all federal money dried up tomorrow, that would only raise the price of contraception, not abortion.
While he ponders that, point out that a conservative estimate suggests Planned Parenthood’s Title X funding alone prevents about 125,000 abortions a year. That’s not even counting the Medicaid funding, which is 75 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding. If you don’t like abortion, you want Planned Parenthood to have more money to prevent it, instead of cutting its funding.
6. Just go to a community health center. Some politicians like Rand Paul and Joni Ernst are trying to float the “reasonable” argument that Planned Parenthood is too much of a hassle and we should just let it go and tell women to go to community health centers instead. Anyone who says this has never actually been to a community health center, or he would know that your average one is overstretched as it is, and dumping millions of extra gynecological patients on them is unfair.
As MSNBC reported, Planned Parenthood has shorter wait times and more on-the-spot service for family planning than community health centers. To go to a community health center, you have to take many hours off work to wait a lengthy amount of time at an overcrowded clinic and then to go find a pharmacy to fill your prescription. The same trip might only be an hour at Planned Parenthood, which can fill your prescription on the spot. For working-class women who can’t afford to take a day off work to get birth control pills, Planned Parenthood is the only viable option.
Unsurprisingly, the one state, Texas, that has cut off Planned Parenthood funding, found that patients were not able just to switch to community health centers. They may not have one in their community, the local one may not be able to take on more patients, or they may not be able to take off work that long. Subsequently, nearly 20,000 women who used to get Planned Parenthood services just went without any care at all. The state saw an estimated 24,000 more unintended pregnancies in the first two years of the cuts.
These conservative talking points are easy to debunk, but it’s also important not to get so much in the weeds that you forget the larger point: The assault on Planned Parenthood is not about the videos at all, but a larger war on women being waged by conservatives. It’s all tied up in conservative efforts to push abstinence-only education, to fight Obamacare’s contraception coverage, to shut down abortion and family planning clinics, and even to halt IUD programs that are known to reduce teen pregnancy. The videos are just a pretense. The real goal is to make it harder for women—especially low-income women — to have happy, healthy sex lives.