February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012 | Commentary on Family and Marriage

‘Women’s Health’ Warriors Pick Wrong Fight

Politics should never come between a woman and her health care,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., declared on the Senate floor one recent afternoon. Senate colleagues as well as media pundits joined the chorus defending “women’s health” from being “politicized.”

The implication is that some people are trivializing a critical matter and subordinating it to their self-interest. That’s a serious charge. So it’s worth investigating what these champions of “women’s health” mean when they accuse others of playing politics.

Are they concerned about the politicization of groups that get entangled in government funding and the lobbying that goes with it? If so, the first case to consider is Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has a yearly budget of $1 billion, and nearly half ($487 million) comes from government. The group reported $56 million in lobbying expenses to secure this funding and the policies that allow it to continue its services.

Those services include abortions — hundreds of thousands of them. In 2010, Planned Parenthood did 329,445 abortions. This means it was responsible for about a third of all abortions in America that year.

Planned Parenthood does other things, its proponents promptly add. True, but: It provided prenatal care to 31,098 women in 2010. That’s 10 abortions for every case of prenatal care. It referred women to adoption agencies: a grand total of 841 women. That’s 391 abortions for every adoption referral.

Roughly half of all Americans believe abortion is morally wrong. A majority object to their tax dollars subsidizing abortion. That’s reason enough to reconsider government underwriting Planned Parenthood.

But self-styled “women’s health warriors” decry efforts to stop taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. Perhaps instead they share many Americans’ weariness with ugly, politically motivated vitriol aimed at well-meaning groups and individuals? In that case, it would be impossible to overlook the recent barrage of contempt directed at the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

When the Komen Foundation announced it would discontinue grants to Planned Parenthood, the private charity had sound reasons. Komen’s single-minded fight against breast cancer, foundation officials explained, demands partners who are similarly focused and meet the charity’s standards.

Komen’s grants for breast cancer prevention, they reasoned, could be more effective targeted elsewhere since Planned Parenthood, it turns out, doesn’t actually provide mammograms. It does basic breast exams and gives referrals for mammograms.

Komen also determined it would not give money to groups under investigation. Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress on issues from financial record-keeping to parental notification policies.

Given the amount at issue — Komen gave $680,000 last year to Planned Parenthood — observers can only conclude that this kerfuffle was about much more than money. Planned Parenthood’s reputation is in peril, and it couldn’t afford to lose the respected charity’s blessing. But the women’s health warriors, augmented by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, digital media queen Arianna Huffington and others with large microphones, led the attack against the Komen Foundation.

Perhaps, then, these warriors are concerned about the politicization of American life as public programs expand into areas once served by civil society, imperiling freedom of conscience? If so, there’s no more obvious example than the assault on religious liberty and the role of civil society groups as a result of the new national health care law.

Under the Affordable Care Act, nearly all employers — including religious hospitals, schools and charities — are required to offer health plans that provide and pay for contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization. Never mind if any of those requirements violate the teachings and beliefs of many religious institutions. The policy tramples on religious liberty, and rightly offends many Americans.

It’s also another illustration of the law’s major design flaw: Centralizing health care erodes the institutions of civil society and forces Americans to hand their health care decisions over to bureaucrats. Still, the defenders of “women’s health” do not object. They demand taxpayer-funded access to contraception and abortion. Met with opposition in using the political process to achieve their objectives, they cry foul. Now that such questions are in the public domain, however, Americans have no choice but to engage these issues politically.

Yes, women’s health warriors, this is about politics — and appropriately so: It’s about stewardship of taxpayer funds used for controversial purposes in a time of budget constraint. It’s about the freedom of religious groups and charities. Our liberty is tied to their liberty, as is the future of America. Defending such freedoms is politics in the best sense of the word.

Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Jennifer A. Marshall Vice President for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, and the Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Fellow

Related Issues: Family and Marriage

First moved on The McClatchy Tribune Wire service