Why can't Planned Parenthood live without its abortion clinics?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 06, 2015

Thomas Van has already called attention to the argument by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat that effectively demolishes the most common defense of Planned Parenthood. But it bears repeating: this is an essay you’ll want to read.

The argument that Douthat shreds is that people who oppose abortion should support Planned Parenthood, since most of PP’s work involves contraception, and contraception helps cut the demand for abortion. Each premise in that argument is false.

Most Americans, unfortunately, accept the notion that contraception is beneficial. They’re wrong, and I’m happy to make that argument, but that’s not my point here.

Many Americans—perhaps most—also accept the argument of PP defenders that access to contraception will help prevent unplanned pregnancies, and thus cut down on the demand for abortion. They’re wrong, too, as Douthat shows. The statistical evidence clearly shows that abortion rates go up when access to contraception is increased.

That’s why abortion clinics are happy to hand out condoms and pills. They know that sooner or later—probably sooner-- a condom will break, or a pill will be forgotten, and the teenagers will be back. For abortionists, giving out contraceptives is an investment in a highly profitable business.

Planned Parenthood claims to be a non-profit institution. (That’s true in the sense that there are no shareholders taking dividends; if you check out the salaries of top PP executives, you might take a more skeptical view.) So let’s push one step further with Douthat’s argument, and ask why it’s so essential to combine the abortion business with the business of distributing contraceptives.

If you run a non-profit institution—a legitimate one, I mean—you aren’t motivated by considerations of profit and loss. You only need to raise enough money to carry out your programs. It is, unfortunately, easy for Planned Parenthood to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support contraceptive services. It’s not quite so easy, given the public resistance, to raise the same amount of money for abortion services.

As Douthat observes, there’s no reason why the two PP services—the abortion service and the contraceptive service—need to operate under one institutional roof. The abortion business brings in millions of dollars: in payments from the women who procure abortions, from their health-insurance carriers, from the profiteers who traffic in the organs of dismembered babies. It’s the contraception business that needs public subsidy.

So why hasn’t Planned Parenthood split up into two different corporate entities: one handling abortions, and generating its own income; the other distributing contraceptives, relying on government support? That would be the obvious solution IF Planned Parenthood was what it claims to be. It would work IF Planned Parenthood was primarily interested in contraception, and abortions were—as the group’s supporters claim—a small part of the PP business.

The truth is that Planned Parenthood is an abortion business: by far the largest abortion business in the world. Contraception is at best an afterthought, at worst a cynical investment in future business prospects.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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