In the latest instance of social conservatives riling up their base before election season, the State of Texas has announced it will cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, purportedly in response to a series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress that showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue. A letter from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission claims that Planned Parenthood was cut off from funding due to “a series of serious Medicaid program violations,” including issues exposed by the videos and some that predated them. It went on to say that coverage would not be affected in Texas as there are thousands of alternate clinics across the state. It even noted that the Texas Legislature has worked to deny as much funding as possible to Planned Parenthood since 2013, including the removal of the organization from the Texas Women’s Health Program.
From the timing of the letter, it is obviously motivated by these videos. As a CNN article notes, however, these videos are misleading in several ways. The first is that several portions of the video, including an image that purported to show an aborted fetus from a Planned Parenthood clinic, was actually a stillborn baby whose photo was taken from the Internet. Another video clip of an aborted fetus was stock footage and likely was not taken at a Planned Parenthood facility. The video’s creator defended it, saying that these were representations of what the fetuses would look like, not the actual ones in question. Nonetheless, it is a disingenuous use of the media, with the mother of the stillborn saying that she was not notified of the image being used in the documentary.
The documentary also spent considerable time showing “negotiations” for prices on fetal tissue, when these were merely estimates for what the reimbursement costs would be. Since providers cannot profit from these transactions, any prices must not exceed the cost of obtaining the material. The creator of the video even asked one Planned Parenthood representative to not “lowball” the price, in order to get a higher figure that may appear to be illegal. Due to the emphasis of these prices by the filmmakers, Planned Parenthood announced they will not take any payment for the tissues, even if they are legal compensatory payments. This had the unintended effect of serving as confirmation in the eyes of the filmmakers and other pro-life activists that Planned Parenthood was in fact breaking the law.
Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have been attempted since the early 1980s, and nearly caused a federal government shutdown in 2011. While this may bolster the image of certain politicians in the eyes of social conservatives, it is utterly irresponsible to waste Congressional time and risk the shutdown of the federal government over an organization that provides healthcare services to low-income women and other groups who benefit from these services. By continuing to argue over such issues, many Republicans not only waste time that could be spent on important issues, but alienate a large group of voters, many of whom are compelled to identify as Democrats because of these issues.
Fortunately, similar efforts in Louisiana have been quickly halted due to a court order. As Medicaid is funded primarily by the federal government, there is little that Texas can do in the long term as it would have to prove that Planned Parenthood was breaking the law to ultimately defund it. Texas receives $17 billion from the feds each year for Medicaid, so it would be a mistake to push the issue too far – in fact, $40 million has already been lost due to political grandstanding with Planned Parenthood. The state shouldn’t continue to shoot itself in the foot.
The debacle has also inspired some parodies of Planned Parenthood supporters, like this video from Freedom Toons. It makes light of ad-hominem attacks that supporters stereotypically make, and asks why the organization should receive federal funding, regardless of one’s position on abortion. The most obvious and common response is that the federal funding does not go to abortion. In addition to this, the organization primarily supports low-income women who could not afford many procedures out-of-pocket, and many other organizations receive similar levels of funding.
I’ve personally come to know people who benefit from Planned Parenthood’s services, one of whom is a man and another who is female and says that she wouldn’t be alive without it. By being exposed to these perspectives, the issue becomes personal and not just another hot-button political topic. That’s why I’m proud to stand with Planned Parenthood and support the continued support of the organization by Medicaid.