It was completely predictable.
Yesterday, after President Donald J. Trump floated the idea of tying federal funding for Planned Parenthood to the elimination of abortion services, organization executive Dawn Laguens told The New York Times: “Let’s be clear: Federal funds already do not pay for abortions.”
Actually, let’s be honest: Money is fungible, so yes, they do.
Laguens was repeating the Planned Parenthood mantra that the 1976 Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from directly subsidizing abortions. Technically true but irrelevant, the point has been swallowed and regurgitated by major media including the Times. But budgets don’t work that way, as Laguens and anyone else who manages a large organization surely knows.
Fungibility means restricted funds do not limit an organization’s ability to fund the restricted item as long as unrestricted money exists – which it nearly always does.
Say the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society splits its $300 million budget evenly between the two diseases, and a billionaire leukemia survivor donates an extra $100 million dedicated only to leukemia research. That doesn’t mean the charity’s lymphoma budget must stay at $150 million. Fifty million dollars can be moved out of the previous leukemia budget to the lymphoma budget, which means the new “restricted” gift is in effect helping research for both diseases equally. In fact, no law or accounting rule would prevent $100 million or even all $150 million of the previous unrestricted leukemia budget shifting to the lymphoma budget, which means that in the year of the leukemia gift the leukemia budget could stay the same or even shrink.
So assertions that funds can only be spent on leukemia – or non-abortion services – are virtually meaningless.
Since the big bold New York Times third-paragraph quote is bluster, why do their reporters and editors fail to call out Planned Parenthood on their nonsense? Leave aside the pro-choice prejudices of major media. Fungibility is a subtle concept best illustrated visually. Journalists, activists, and voters interested in this issue should watch this clear and concise (one-minute) video:
Planned Parenthood’s devotion to this deceitful claim becomes even more curious when you consider how the group largely eschews a compelling argument that could be quite effective with Americans in the vast middle, who would prefer to see abortions neither performed nor banned. They could easily say:
You’re right. Planned Parenthood performs too many abortions. And the way to reduce the frequency of those procedures is not to reduce our budget for women’s health services but to maintain it – or increase it. That’s because our projects – free and low-cost contraception, morning-after solutions, counseling for family planning, even combating sexually transmitted diseases – are potent tools for preventing unwanted pregnancies. Feed us and abortions will fall; starve us and they’ll rise.
That intuitive but incredibly powerful argument turns the debate on its head. (Though it shows up from time to time in pro-choice discourse, it has played virtually no role in the current debate.) The group could even go further and solve the fungibility problem by pledging to cap at the 2016 level both its annual abortions per year and the percentage of its budget spent on abortion.
Particularly now that Republicans control all branches of government, why can’t Planned Parenthood go for the win by using this elegant case, plus policies to thwart the fungibility argument?
The answer is simple: many leaders of the “reproductive rights” movement consider abortion a positive good, something Planned Parenthood should never apologize for or cut back on. When this particular controversy came to light, its president Cecile Richards tweeted, “Planned Parenthood is proud to provide abortion—a necessary service that’s as vital to our mission as birth control or cancer screenings.”
I wouldn’t object to government funding of a non-radical women’s health organization – even one that provides a limited number of abortions – if it shares the goal of most Americans to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies so much that abortions are an afterthought.
Planned Parenthood, however, is not that organization. It is run by extremist feminists proud of facilitating abortion for anyone who wants one at any time for any reason. A blindly ideological organization so out of step with the worldview of most Americans does not deserve a half-billion taxpayer dollars.
But Planned Parenthood’s extremism needn’t be permanent, and dismantling the group would be tragic. Its sophisticated infrastructure helps many Americans at vulnerable moments. Planned Parenthood donors and board members, do you want to persuade skeptical Americans to support federal funding? Demand that the organization adapt to the tenor of the times and focus on non-controversial ways to further its eponymous mission: Planned Parenthood.
Then we can talk.