How To Argue For Planned Parenthood

So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant. And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue for Planned Parenthood.

Common Argument #1: Planned Parenthood sells baby parts!

Your Response: This is what the Center for Medical Progress and what their sting videos would like you to believe, although the sum total of their undercover work (some of which likely violated the law) fails to actually demonstrate it. What the videos do achieve very effectively is leave such a conclusion hanging there for a viewer to make — which is especially likely if you're already an anti-abortion activist to begin with, or if the clinical tone disturbs you. There's nothing wrong with fetal tissue donation disturbing you, but it's disingenuous to assert that Planned Parenthood is engaged in "selling baby parts." To the contrary, state-level investigations launched in the wake of the CMP videos have failed to find any evidence of them "selling" tissue, beyond entirely legal reimbursements for transportation and storage of donated tissue.

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Common Argument #2: But the videos show Planned Parenthood trying to keep a kicking fetus alive to harvest its brain!

Your Response: This is untrue. Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said this during CNN's GOP primary debate, but it was either an unwitting error or a straight-up fib. No such footage exists in the undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. There are other possible videos she could've watched — as Vox's Sarah Kliff detailed, there is an image of a fetus in a CMP documentary series titled "Human Capital," but the actual footage wasn't filmed in a Planned Parenthood, and isn't linked to the story the documentary is telling (it's essentially grisly stock footage of unknown provenance, provided by an entirely different anti-abortion group). A woman claiming to be the fetus' mother says it was a stillbirth, not an abortion.

Fiorina's campaign has since provided a link to the video she was talking about, but unfortunately, it also does not accurately reflect her comments.

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Common Argument #3: You can't deny how horrifyingly casually those Planned Parenthood people talk about harvesting fetal organs.

Your Response: Yes and no. It's definitely horrifying if you're anti-abortion — or rather, pro-fetal-life at all costs — because the entire conversation entails that a fetus has died, whether by abortion, stillbirth, or miscarriage. And it could definitely rattle somebody who doesn't work in reproductive health, since people within shared fields tend to speak to one another more frankly and straightforwardly about their work than the general public might expect or be familiar with. But fundamentally, this is a question about whether you support the idea of organ donation; nothing more and nothing less.

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Common Argument #4: Most of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion.

Your Response: Once again, not so, and not even close. You can be forgiven for getting this impression, thanks to a slew of misinformation that's been broadcast over the last several years from some high-profile sources — former Republican Sen. John Kyl once claimed that abortion amounted to more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's activities. In reality, fair-minded estimates place the figure somewhere in the high single-digits.

This kind of argument also wholly ignores the vital good the organization does for lower-income women's reproductive health all across the country. But regardless, let's assume that it was 90 percent. That doesn't actually function as an argument against Planned Parenthood. It's only an indictment if you're already opposed to abortion, which a majority of Americans are not.


Common Argument #5: But a majority of Americans believe abortion should only be legal under some circumstances.

Your Response: True, but more Americans believe that it should be 100 percent legal with no restrictions than believe it should be illegal without exception — at least, if Gallup's tracking poll is to be believed. Basically, the closer you get to one logical extreme or another, the warier people become. But the opinion that abortion access is vital clearly outpaces the view that it should be stopped at any cost.

And besides, given that Planned Parenthood can't be boiled down solely to abortion, you'd have to find a reason why you think the entire organization should be defunded or abolished, other than the radical, unpopular position of forcing them to offer nothing in the way of abortion services.


Common Argument #6: Well, I don't want my tax dollars going towards abortions, and Planned Parenthood is federally funded.

Your Response: Planned Parenthood is federally funded, but thanks to the Hyde Amendment, none of those funds can be used for abortion services. This is an incredibly rare privilege for an ideological taxpayer. For example, I didn't want my tax dollars going to the Iraq War, but that wasn't a right or a decision I was given. Considering how much deference anti-abortion taxpayers get on this front, it'd be nice if they appreciated it more.


Common Argument #7: Well, you sound like a ghoul. Average Americans will agree with me that selling baby parts is evil. Defund Planned Parenthood! And if the Democrats won't play ball, shut down the government!

Your Response: You can think that way if it gives you solace, but the reality is that a big majority of Americans believe that Planned Parenthood should be funded — two-thirds, in fact, according to a recent USA Today / Suffolk University poll. Which means that if the GOP somehow forced the defunding of Planned Parenthood (which it can't and won't), they'd be in dire political straits. And if they shut down the government over it, well, just wait and see how that turns out.

Image: Otto Yamamoto/Flickr (1)