Anti-Planned Parenthood Strategy is Spectacle, Nothing More

Ohio is in the news this week. Gov. John Kasich revived the Planned Parenthood conversation when he signed House Bill 294, disallowing state funding to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions. The bill would divert more than a million dollars from the 28 Planned Parenthood locations in Ohio. Planned Parenthood, however, has proven resilient to legal challenges since the video fiascos last summer, so the debate will continue over the next three months before the bill goes into effect. My colleague Phalen Kuckuck even crunched the numbers and saw the bright side of this bill.

And the Planned Parenthood narrative continues. When I first heard about the Ohio bill, I was surprised that we were still talking about this, let alone creating legislation about it. I was surprised not because it’s ridiculous. I was surprised because, for the anti-abortion movement, this is a bad strategy. Targeting Planned Parenthood will not help to outlaw abortion in the United States. But then I considered that maybe eliminating abortion is not the goal after all. I have now concluded that the anti-Planned Parenthood strategy is not legal or moral — it’s political and electoral… and I don’t think it’s working.

While I am not an anti-abortion activist, I am friends with a few (one who recently organized the rather well-attended national #ProtestPP action day), and their two-step strategy seems to be quite simple:

  1. Demonize Planned Parenthood as immoral/illegal
  2. Attach abortion to Planned Parenthood.

Repeatedly associating an immoral actor (Planned Parenthood) to an action (abortion) should, theoretically, to an uncritical mass, render the action immoral. This strategy has been heavily employed since last summer when activist organization Center for Medical Progress alleged that Planned Parenthood profits illegally from the sale of aborted fetuses’ organs.

Generally, the anti-abortion movement has two goals that, in the mind of the movement, go together:

  1. Make abortion illegal
  2. Reduce the total amount of abortions performed in the United States

How does the anti-Planned Parenthood strategy perform in service of these goals? Not great. Trying to make abortion illegal by slandering and/or defunding Planned Parenthood is like trying to take down a plane by shooting a $3 slingshot at the flight attendant’s garage — it’s ineffective, cheap, sketchy and makes a lot of noise. The federal government already can’t legally fund an overwhelming majority of abortions, and Planned Parenthood offices are effectively resisting. Ohio’s Planned Parenthood has promised they won’t stop services even if its funding is completely cut. Many argue that defunding Planned Parenthood would actually increase the demand for abortions as sexual education and access to contraception diminishes.

Acknowledging all of this, we conclude that either:

  1. This is just a bad strategy employed by ignorant activists, or
  2. This is a good strategy that is not targeting abortion.

While the first conclusion is entertaining, I think it’s wrong. My anti-abortion activist friends are passionate and intelligent. This strategy is only bad if we insist that eliminating abortion is the goal. So then I must assume that this national appeal is not legal or moral — it’s political.

The entire Planned Parenthood conversation is a strategy to push abortion onto the national stage in order to give anti-abortion candidates political traction in state and federal elections.

Look at the timing. Though the videos that launched this campaign were filmed over the past few years, they weren’t released until the summer of 2015. Monetary compensation for fetal tissue and organs is not a new thing; there is no new, ground-breaking policy push. Popular opinions on abortion have remained steady over the past few years. We must assume that the timing was significant and coordinated.

It’s an election year.

The passion of the anti-abortion movement, which has often reached across borders of party and political ideology, has been commandeered by this spectacle of an election. The anti-abortion movement was the only non-Trump segment of the conservative population that had any viral appeal, especially with younger generations, and the right is exploiting that appeal. I think they’ll regret it. Not only is the strategy hypocritical, but it also doesn’t seem to be working — 65 percent of respondents to one poll insist that Planned Parenthood funding should continue, and the conservative front-runner is still Donald Trump, a candidate who switched from pro-abortion rights to anti-abortion rights very recently and avoids the subject when he can.

It seems to me that the anti-abortion movement is rejecting interesting intellectual and legal arguments in order to embrace partisanship, tantrums and YouTube hits. The election cycle consumes another victim. What will be next?


Originally published at thenewpolitical.com on February 24, 2016.