The Libertarian Plan to Defund Planned Parenthood

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Usually, when conservatives fight Planned Parenthood, it’s over abortion – or at least that’s how it is framed. It’s (supposedly) a moral issue about the babies and life, tied into religion. But conservative libertarians supposedly care about individual liberties, so we’d be led to believe they’d be pro-choice – except they rarely ever are (cf, Ron Paul and Rand Paul). But Ayn Randians are nothing if not dedicated to the Free Market and against government. If they can find a reason to shut down a recipient of public funds plus make buddy-buddy with their Religious Right colleagues, all the better – whether or not the service is necessary for poor women and families. Randian Skyler Mann is only too happy to oblige with her article (later tweeted by the Koch-funded libertarian think tank Heritage Foundation) “The Free Market Argument For Defunding Planned Parenthood.”

Now, as mentioned before, political libertarians and their conservative counterparts don’t really understand government. They understand bottom line, but not actually how business operates in the real world. So when they bring business principals into government and nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood, they are concerned about how to make a buck without using taxes, not about what benefits all people nor the most poor. People are consumers in this line of thought and anything that is for public use – such as roads, parks, libraries, medical insurance, etc. – can and should be privatized (in this direction, they align with neoliberals) and turned into the Free Market.

In a free market setting, PPFA will need to keep those low prices for consumers in order to attract the same level of business. The demand for birth control, STD treatments, and abortions isn’t going away — and if PPFA is offering the lowest prices, they’ll keep their business.

And, heck, if you’re worried about access to abortion, making PPFA compete in the same manner as any other private or NPO clinic will force the organizations in question to up the quality and lower the prices as best they can. Eventually this leads to more accessibility across the board.

Mann seems to think Planned Parenthood is a cereal company, selling Sugar Bombs while resting on their laurels cuz the gubmint is giving them the welfares for abortions. While she doesn’t seem too interested in the abortion argument, she sees shutting down abortion clinics as a neutral good for her socially conservative compatriots. There are so many misconceptions that I’m not sure where to start. So let’s begin with a quick overview about Planned Parenthood and similar family planning services.

  1. Planned Parenthood is not primarily an abortion clinic. About 3% of all activities that they do are abortions. Planned Parenthood is, as the name suggests, about family planning, prevention, sex education, birth control, as well as STD testing and treatment and cancer screening and a wide range of women’s health issues (source).
  2. The US government has nothing to do with paying for abortions. Remember the Hyde Amendment?
  3. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of Planned Parenthood clients have low income and make at or below 150% of the poverty level. PP is mostly for women (and men) who cannot afford other care, particularly for reproductive health (source).
  4. In fact, sixty percent of PP clients consider PP their primary source of health care (source).
  5. And 73% of Planned Parenthood clinics are in economically blighted areas where there is little access to other health care options – let alone ones that are geared toward reproductive health (ibid).

Elizabeth Miles is one of those people who absolutely needed the services of Planned Parenthood:

There aren’t any options for women that don’t have insurance, unless they want to pay $200 to $300 for their pap… I didn’t have insurance for the first four or five years that I went to Planned Parenthood. If it wouldn’t have been for them, I would not have been able to have a yearly checkup or be able to be on a birth control. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Skyler Mann argues, however, that defunding Planned Parenthood will allow it to be more competitive. Her argument is based on wild speculation, not on the objectivity that Randians like to believe they are full of. Federal funding through Title X programs and Medicaid are what keep PP offices open in these economically depressed areas in urban and rural sites. If they close, many of those places would not be able to remain open. And there is nobody who would be able to step up. It’s not economically viable. The Free Market would decide which women are able to get treatment and which aren’t, of course.

But that would also mean that unwanted pregnancies and abortions would rise among poor people. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute:

Absent publicly funded family planning services, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it currently is, and nearly twice as high among poor women.

Additionally, according to the same study, US taxpayers are benefiting at a rate of four dollars for every one dollar that goes into the preventative use of family planning. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it’s estimated that we save four times as much money giving to groups like PP for preventative care. Unwanted, unplanned pregnancies are expensive and the US populace does not seem ready to take care of the cost or responsibilities.

Having children when parents are not ready, or having more children than parents can take care of is bad business as it removes productivity from the workforce and the economic engine. You would think business-minded people would grasp that?

And this is one of the main problems with libertarianism: it trusts businesses to take care of people when businesses are not wired to care about infrastructure nor prevention – let alone people who don’t have money. In fact, Martin argues that moving Planned Parenthood into her Free Market will allow abortion services to be more efficient, faster and cheaper. She seems to not know about how dangerous back alley abortions were and are. Or just doesn’t care, because her point is to make government small and ally with the Religious Right. So it’d be a win-win for her. Not for much of America, though.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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