The contemporary world is full of controversial issues that inspire debate all over the world. In the United States, the issue of abortion, or the debate between pro-life and pro-choice advocates, is a long-standing controversy that encompasses the topics of human rights, ethics, public health, and even global development. In April 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing individual states to defund Planned Parenthood projects and clinics that perform, among many other services, abortions (Mercia par. 1). Earlier this year, President Trump also signed an executive order defunding the International Planned Parenthood Initiative, which provides health services for women in developing countries (Richardson par. 1). As a result of this executive order, the organization will lose $100 million annually, money which could be spent improving the health and living conditions of women in poor countries with low access to health care (Richardson para. 4). This essay will argue that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and similar initiatives are ethically wrong because these organizations offer irreplaceable benefits to many women, both in the United States and all around the world.
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About Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood is the oldest and largest international organization that offers and promotes reproductive healthcare services in a variety of countries. Over its 100-year history, the organization has been a significant part of the women’s rights movement in the United States (PPH par. 3). The first Planned Parenthood clinic opened in Brooklyn in 1916, at a time when women’s reproductive health was among the issues least prioritized by the government, and the discussion and dissemination of birth control were prohibited by law (PPH par. 2). It took decades for the government to acknowledge the necessity of the services offered in these clinics and even longer for the public to accept a woman’s right to reproductive health care, the establishment of which was among the top priorities of this organization (PPH par. 3). Today, Planned Parenthood is a truly global organization that supports 650 health centers in the United States as well as more than 100 partner organizations with similar goals in countries across Africa and Latin America (Planned Parenthood par. 1). Planned Parenthood provides services to 2.5 million patients in the United States, helping prevent an estimated 579,000 unwanted pregnancies each year (par. 6). Moreover, despite the widespread belief that the organization actively promotes abortion, pregnancy terminations represent only 3% of the services provided by all Planned Parenthood clinics (par. 7).
Also, current federal legislation prohibits clinics from using government funding to pay for abortion services, which means that taxpayer money is used to fund other services (Mercia par. 3). A total of 45% of Planned Parenthood’s services are devoted to STD testing and treatment, and a further 31% of its services provide appropriate contraception (Planned Parenthood par. 7). The number of rendered services for cancer screening and prevention is more than two times larger than the number of abortions performed annually (Planned Parenthood par. 7). The vast majority (75%) of patients who receive Planned Parenthood services in the United States have incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level (Planned Parenthood par. 8), which means that they would not be able to pay for these services in standard healthcare institutions. Therefore, by taking away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, the government is depriving the poorest populations of vital reproductive healthcare services, such as cancer screenings and STD treatment. Furthermore, by creating barriers to the treatment of sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs/STDs), the government’s choice to defund Planned Parenthood has also promoted their spread, thus endangering other U.S. residents as well.
Need for Services
The United States
Even though the United States has a well-developed healthcare infrastructure, there is still a need for free health care and education to be provided to certain populations. For example, the overall rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States is already high for a developed country at 52 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44; however, for certain demographic groups—including African American, Hispanic, and teenage women—the rates are much higher (Haider et al. 94). For every 1,000 African American females, for example, there are 91 unintended pregnancies, which is almost twice as high as the national average (Haider et al. 94). The primary cause of unwanted pregnancies is low access to contraception. Haider et al. explain that low-cost methods, such as oral contraception or male condoms, are inconsistent and can have effects as low as 85%; more effective methods like the subdermal implant, often referred to as long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), have higher costs and are not accessible to disadvantaged women (95). Being unable to afford effective contraception, these women use contraceptive methods with a high probability of user error or simply no contraception at all, which results in unintended pregnancies; these pregnancies can either be terminated medically or become an economic burden: reports show that unintended births that were publicly funded cost over $10 billion in 2006 alone (Haider et al. 95). Haider et al. agree that the provision of contraception and sexual education free of charge would reduce abortion rates and promote reproductive health in adolescent and minority populations (95). Even though Planned Parenthood clinics are commonly accused of supporting abortion with the help of government funding, they can provide contraception for free, thus reducing the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortion.
Ford et al. also discuss the need for sexual health training and education, as well as free STI/STD screenings, in the United States (96). The researchers state that the most effective means of promoting sexual health across the population are “increasing access to sexual health services, emphasizing sexual health education and encouraging screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)” (Ford et al. 96). The lack of any one of these practices—for instance, reproductive health education—can hurt many populations. For example, a lack of sexual education has led to a stigma that Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexual people, and heroin addicts are the only populations at high risk of contracting HIV, thus reducing HIV screenings and preventative practices among other populations (Ford et al. 97). The promotion of tests and screenings is also an important part of the work of sexual health clinics. Ford et al. agree that healthcare providers can be effective in persuading patients to check their reproductive health regularly, which can prevent the spread of STIs/STDs all over the country (98). Nevertheless, certain screenings can be very costly. For example, screenings for cervical and other types of cancer are the kind of tests that disadvantaged women may not be able to afford. Moreover, knowledge of sexual health among women from vulnerable populations can be very limited due to cultural, language, or educational barriers. Planned Parenthood clinics help address both of these issues. First, the clinics offer free STI/STD tests, as well as free screenings for breast, cervical, and other types of cancer. Moreover, the specialists working at the clinics can be primary sources of reproductive and sexual health knowledge for disadvantaged women. The funding of these clinics, therefore, becomes essential to promote reproductive education and to prevent the spread of STIs/STDs.
U.S. policy also has a substantial effect on health initiatives in other nations, particularly in the developing parts of the world. For instance, Okonofua and Ogu state that “many African countries have never been able to develop policies on population and development without the influences of international organizations and lead countries such as the United States” (9). Moreover, the United States plays a big part in the funding of organizations that promote sexual health in developing countries (Okonofua and Ogu 9). The lack of financing from the United States will, therefore, hurt the development of health care in countries with vulnerable populations. Access to public health services in these countries is rarely sufficient to provide for the needs of the community. One of the most prominent examples of the need for reproductive health promotion in Haiti, where the rate of maternal mortality is one of the highest in the world (Arnesen par. 11). Over 99% of these deaths are preventable if a proper approach to reproductive health promotion is undertaken (Arnesen par. 1). For example, Haiti has a very low number of clinics offering reproductive health services in rural regions; moreover, the country’s poor economic situation increases women’s dependence on men for their income, which serves to reinforce traditional gender roles and decreases women’s control over their health. Arnesen points out: “In a survey of pregnant women in rural Haiti, 94% of women reported that their husband or male partner made their health decisions for them, 4% reported that their mother was the primary decision-maker for health concerns, and only 2% of the women surveyed reported that they made their own decisions in matters of their health” (par. 7). The provision of free reproductive health services can thus become a source of empowerment for women, as it would enable them to make their own health choices. They would no longer have to rely on their partners to use male condoms but would be able to ask their doctors to prescribe oral contraception, thus preventing unintended pregnancies.
Unsafe abortions pose another serious concern in this case: in developing countries, 7 million women are treated for complications from unsafe pregnancy termination, and at least 22,000 women die during or as a result of unsafe abortions (Singh et al. 22). The main reason that women go to a non-professional person for an abortion is the lack of free, safe, or legal alternatives. Therefore, the promotion of safe abortion in developing countries is a necessary measure that would save thousands of lives every year until the proper access to contraception is established to prevent these unintended pregnancies in the first place. By taking away funding from Planned Parenthood International, as well as other organizations promoting safe abortion and working to increase contraceptive access, the United States government has put the lives of many vulnerable women at risk.
Conclusion: Female Rights Issues
Access to reproductive health care is a basic right that all women deserve to have. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development “shifted emphasis from an earlier focus on a narrow family planning to one that puts women at the center of the process, which recognizes, respects, and responds to the needs of women” (Okonofua and Ogu 9). As a result of the conference, women were guaranteed the right to deal with their reproductive health and family planning concerns without external influences (Okonofua and Ogu 9). President Trump’s order is a severe violation of this right. Though many people argue that taxpayer money should not be spent on abortions, the clinics were already prohibited from directing the government’s money to abortion before President Trump signed the bill (Mercia par. 3). By taking away funding from Planned Parenthood, President Trump is depriving women of other life-saving services, including cancer screenings, STD tests, and effective contraception. The decision is, therefore, a direct threat to the right of American women to be healthy and make family planning choices for themselves, as well as a violation of the UN’s development goals that promote justice and freedom for women in developing countries.
Overall, the defunding of Planned Parenthood is not only unjust but morally wrong: it shows how an individual man can exercise control over millions of women worldwide, depriving them of their right to live independent, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Moreover, it is a step back from the progress toward gender equality made in the United States over the past few decades. Although Planned Parenthood claims that they will forfeit the investment and will continue to provide healthcare services to women all over the globe (Richardson par. 4), the lack of funding may hurt the quality or availability of services provided, hurting not just women but entire families and communities as well.
Arnesen, Rachel. “Haiti: Improving the Maternal Health Situation through Increased Contraceptive Use.” Yale Global Health Review, Web.
Ford, Jessie V., et al. “Sexual Health Training and Education in the U.S.” Public Health Reports, vol. 128, no. 1, 2013, pp. 96-101.
Haider, Sadia, et al. “Reproductive Health Disparities: A Focus on Family Planning and Prevention Among Minority Women and Adolescents.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 2, no. 5, 2013, pp. 94-99.
Mercia, Dan. “Trump Privately Signs Anti-Planned Parenthood Law.” CNN, 2017, Web.
Okonofua, Friday, and Rosemary Ogu. “Reproductive Health After the US Elections: Implications for Sub-Saharan Africa.” African Journal of Reproductive Health, vol. 20. no. 4, 2016, p. 9.
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Planned Parenthood. Creating a Healthier World for Everyone, 2016, Web.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH). “Our History.” Planned Parenthood, 2017, Web.
Richardson, Bradford. “Trump Signs Executive Order Defunding International Planned Parenthood.” The Washington Times, 2017, Web.
Singh, Susheela, et al. Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health 2014, 2014, Web.
Letter to Scott
The idea for this project came to me while I was reading the news. Talk of defunding Planned Parenthood was in the air even before Donald Trump was elected President. To me, this seems to be a human rights issue: given the fact that government funding does not go to abortions, removing it completely only decreases the access of disadvantaged women to important health services. In my opinion, making personal health choices and obtaining adequate medical care are among the primary rights of every person. Nevertheless, the government has created additional barriers for certain groups of people to gain access to better, healthier lives. The Affordable Care Act, known commonly as Obamacare, extended care to thousands of people who never had access to medical aid before; however, some state governments refused to accept the act, and now there are talks of President Trump intending to reverse the Affordable Care Act completely. I find it unjust, and it pains me to see how many people are in support of defunding Planned Parenthood. If the demand for reproductive health care is so high in the United States, what would be the effects of defunding in developing countries, where access to care is already much lower?
In this essay, I wanted to explain my point of view on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and similar initiatives. I focused on describing what the clinics actually do, as it seems like many people are unaware of the positive impact that Planned Parenthood can have, even in their own communities. I also addressed the current state of reproductive health care in developing countries to show why funding international reproductive health initiatives is critical and why promoting safe abortion in developing nations is necessary. I concluded the project by explaining the impact that this bill had on women’s rights and the ethical issues surrounding them. All in all, I believe that this essay may inspire some people to think differently about the topic and to understand those who, like me, oppose President Trump’s decision.