PP Doesn't Need The "Other Services" Defense

by Elizabeth King

In a continued spiral of attacks that were prompted by the release of heavily edited anti-abortion propaganda videos, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has testified in front of the House Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C. this week. Republicans in both chambers of Congress have been pushing for federal funding of Planned Parenthood to be removed from the government's budget, angering (and worrying) pro-choice activists and Planned Parenthood supporters. So often recently when I hear people speak out in favor of Planned Parenthood, the issue of abortion is eschewed in favor of bringing up the organization's "other services" — i.e. services not related to abortion, of which Planned Parenthood offers many. I'm growing tired of this defense. We don't need to use the organization's non-abortion services to justify supporting Planned Parenthood.

What frustrates me about the discussion surrounding these "other services" (STD testing, sex education, cancer screenings, etc.) is the way they are framed in the pro-choice conversation. Whenever I hear Planned Parenthood's other services invoked, it's almost always as a reactionary defense, and it reads as an unnecessary rationalization or apology. Someone who is anti-abortion will spew their hate for Planned Parenthood and their clients, primarily claiming that abortions are immoral, that Planned Parenthood provides abortions, and therefore Planned Parenthood is immoral and needs to be eliminated. Pro-choice advocates will cry "But Planned Parenthood provides other services! It's not just abortions!" I have two problems with this tactic as an answer to anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The first issue is that it minimizes the necessity of abortions for those who elect to have them. By saying "more than just abortions" we're basically saying, "Abortions aren't even that important. I mean, look how many other services Planned Parenthood offers." Abortions are a big deal, and having an abortion can and does change the lives of thousands of women every year. We can't argue for the dire need to have access to abortion and in the same breath minimize the importance of abortion by avoiding the topic and instead redirecting attention to more socially palatable services. Let's not mistake the relatively low number of abortions provided with a small matter of how important abortion access is. So let's toss "just abortions" from our lexicon.

The second problem I see — beyond the minimization of our need for and the importance of abortion services — is that when we use the "other services apology," we're not confronting the fact that abortion is not wrong. People are attacking Planned Parenthood because of abortion; they likely don't care about the other services. They're out to take away our right to choose. Instead of trying to justify Planned Parenthood's existence by listing the other ways it supports women's health, we need to tackle the ethical matter of abortions head on. Abortion isn't wrong; it is a safe, legal, and necessary medical procedure that we deserve access to. The end. By immediately directing the conversation away from the abortion aspect of Planned Parenthood, in a way, we are buying into the abortion stigma. What this amounts to is little more than: "Well yeah, abortion is maybe not so great, but that's not all there is to Planned Parenthood."


The services Planned Parenthood provides that are not directly related to abortion are also extremely important. In fact, they are vital. But they're not necessarily morally superior to abortion services, so it doesn't make sense to bring these services up every time someone leverages an attack against Planned Parenthood. Even without the other services, there would still be a need for Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, because there would still be a need for safe abortion providers.

Frankly, I'd support Planned Parenthood even if it only provided abortion services. We need those services. There is nothing at all wrong with those services, and I want all of us to have the option to seek that service from a safe and reliable medical professional if and when we might need to. I don't feel apologetic about that, and I don't think anyone else should, either. I'm proud of Planned Parenthood for everything they do, but I am mostly proud that they stand up for this particular right. It's not easy (as evidenced by the GOP grilling Richards is going through at the Capitol), but it's the right thing to do. This is the heart of Planned Parenthood, and ultimately the core reason I suspect so many of us stand behind it.


Of course we need to be accurate and provide complete information when we educate others about Planned Parenthood. Everyone should know that they provide STD testing to men and women, breast cancer screenings, and well-woman care. I'm not suggesting that we should strictly avoid all mention of the myriad services Planned Parenthood offers. We also need to correct bad information about where Planned Parenthood gets their funding, what percentage of their services are dedicated to abortion, and any clearly false allegations. (Such as the sale of baby parts ...) Accuracy is important. But when the issue is simply over abortion access, we need to stop offering rationalizations and apologies, and own our support for a right we've held dear for more than 40 years.