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Should We Eliminate Planned Parenthood?

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Have you guys been following the news reports about the Congressional movement to put the kibosh on Planned Parenthood? Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate all federal funding for the organization, which provides a host of basic health services, like check-ups and screenings for diseases including cancer and diabetes, in addition to offering birth control, family planning counseling, and STD testing. These services aren't free, but Planned Parenthood does what it can to make them affordable. Some of their centers — those with the most financial support — are even able to charge patients according to income. (It's no surprise that nearly two million low-income women make use of Planned Parenthood each year, that one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic at least once in her life, and more than five million women, men, and adolescents receive care from Planned Parenthood annually.) But if Capitol Hill decides to stop providing the group with financial aid — and the Senate may vote on the bill as early as today — Planned Parenthood's reach will be severely curtailed.

Yesterday, in The New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat claimed that conservatives see "Planned Parenthood's larger worldview — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it's clinically 'safe' — as the enemy of the kind of sexual idealism they're trying to restore. Liberals argue, not unreasonably, that Planned Parenthood's approach is tailored to the gritty realities of teenage sexuality. But realism can blur into cynicism, and a jaded attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

There was plenty in Douthat's op-ed that I found compelling. For instance, he referred to a book called Premarital Sex in America (which I've covered in this blog) when discussing research that looked at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults and found "a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression." He continued: "This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution."

All of that is very interesting to me. I've certainly begun to urge both my friends and you readers to consider holding out longer before having sex — because not waiting has almost always caused me regret and insecurity. (At the same time, there was one instance in which not waiting worked out well for me. And I regret spending so much of my life — more than a quarter-century — waiting to find the perfect person.)

And yet ... as much as I get where Douthat is coming from, I think it's unreasonable to imply (as he seems to) that making it more difficult for young women to get condoms, morning-after pills, and other safe-sex services will have a major impact on the sexual choices they make. As far as I can tell, the biggest influences on young women's sexual behavior are their families, their friends, and the culture. Planned Parenthood usually comes into the picture only when something unexpected or unplanned happens.

You wouldn't say, "You know what? Let's eliminate all emergency rooms, because then people will be less likely to get into accidents." So … why make a similar argument about eliminating Planned Parenthood?

Plus, it's not like we can either support Planned Parenthood or encourage young women to consider the benefits of waiting. Those things aren't mutually exclusive. As a society, we can do both. And just as much as unsafe sex isn't responsible, neither is making it so hard for young people to have it.

What do you guys think of all this?

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