Planned Parenthood’s Continued Relevancy
If there’s one person who is sure to always hit us where it’s relevant, it’s Shonda Rhimes. On the mid-season finale of “Scandal” (spoilers ahead, for those who aren’t caught up), Mellie filibusters in front of the Senate for nearly a full day in order to ensure that Planned Parenthood’s funding isn’t considered discretionary, and Olivia aborts Fitz’s child. Even with the trigger warning at the beginning of the episode, viewers were surprised with where the plot took them.
All of this aired just eight days before a gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It occurred in the midst of a lawsuit against the state of Texas for trying to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding. And it tackled a real-life issue that has been discussed with increasing fervor since the fall—defunding Planned Parenthood altogether. Planned Parenthood remains front-page news, which is rare for an organization that has been around for nearly one hundred years. Yet it stays relevant, and will continue to stay relevant in mainstream media as long as the country is polarized by the subject of abortion. So, here’s a breakdown of all the latest Planned Parenthood stories, and what they mean for the future of the organization and healthcare.
Is Planned Parenthood going to be defunded?
In short, as of right now, it’s hard to say whether Planned Parenthood will still be funded next year.
There are two ways that Republicans could go about trying to defund Planned Parenthood. There is a bill that just passed the Senate that would both remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year and repeal part of the Affordable Care Act. This bill had already passed in the House of Representatives. However, given that it’s part of a bill to repeal Obamacare, President Obama is expected to veto it.
So, if that doesn’t work, it is possible that the defunding would be tacked onto the spending bill that has to pass by December 11 in order for the government to continue functioning.
Why defund Planned Parenthood?
The woman’s health organization has been under fire since several videos were released in July 2015 that imply that baby parts are sold by the organization. Since then, it has been proven that these videos were manipulated by an anti-abortion organization, but the damage had already been done. The president of Planned Parenthood has since had to testify before a congressional hearing, and the threat to defund the organization has become very real.
What would happen if Planned Parenthood is defunded?
If Planned Parenthood is defunded, the results could be disastrous. While it is anyone’s right to decide what side they fall on in the ongoing and ever-relevant debate about abortion, that is only a fraction of the work that Planned Parenthood clinics do across the country. According to its own statistics, 80 percent of its work is focused on preventing unintended pregnancies. Aside from that, it also provides 4.5 million STI tests and treatments each year, including nearly a quarter of a million HIV tests. When Planned Parenthood was defunded in rural Indiana, there was an explosion of HIV in the county. For many women, Planned Parenthood is the only source of STI testing, birth control, and other women’s health services available to them. Defunding Planned Parenthood would take those services away from the five million people who visit clinic locations each year.
Arguments for Defunding Planned Parenthood
On the flip side, the government funds that are funneled into Planned Parenthood each year have many other worthy recipients. Jeff Duncan, a Representative from South Carolina, said that the Boys and Girls Club, for example, only gets a fraction of the funds that Planned Parenthood gets each year. There is also the argument that there should be fewer government-sponsored programs all together, and Planned Parenthood is just another program that should be funded in another way.
However, no matter how it’s stated, it comes down to this—pro-lifers, and even some pro-choicers, don’t think that the government should fund any organization that has anything to do with abortions, even if it is illegal for federal funds to pay for abortions themselves. In this belief system, Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be a government-funded agency, and therefore defunding the organization would free up tax dollars for other uses.
What’s going on with Planned Parenthood in Texas?
Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, announced in October that the state was going to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funds. In return, Planned Parenthood and ten patients are suing the state of Texas in the hopes of stopping officials from cutting off the Medicaid funds that allowed the patients to be treated at Planned Parenthood locations. Texas is the fourth state, following Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, to be involved in such a lawsuit this year.
Abbott made his announcement after the uproar that the July 2015 videos caused. The videos depicted supposed Planned Parenthood officials discussing selling aborted fetal parts for research, including staff members at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which is located in Houston, Texas.
Does Planned Parenthood stand a chance of winning the lawsuit?
This lawsuit could go either way.
In Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, the state had to stop proceedings to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funds until officials looked into the matter more closely. This means that there is a chance that the removal is unconstitutional, or breaks some kind of law for restricting federal funds. Federal health officials did warn the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in October that removing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding could be a violation of United States law.
This is also not the first time that Planned Parenthood has sued the state of Texas. In 2012, Texas Republicans removed Planned Parenthood from the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program. The state of Texas argued that the federal government gave individual states the right to decide how to allocate federal Medicaid funds, and Planned Parenthood eventually lost the lawsuit.
As of November 23, 2015, the state of Texas had not yet received legal papers in the lawsuit. Once papers are received, the case will likely end up in front of a federal judge.
What about the shooting in Colorado Springs?
On Friday November 27, 2015–Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving best known for shopping deals—there was a fatal shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Three were left dead and nine injured in the shooting, and one of the deceased was a police officer. After a five-hour standoff with police, the shooter was taken into custody.
As of right now, the exact motive for the shooting is unknown. Robert L. Dear was arrested and appeared at a hearing on Monday November 30 wearing a security smocked designed to prevent suicides. Allegedly, when Dear was arrested, he uttered “no more baby parts,” but police have not been forthcoming with any other information.
How does this affect where Planned Parenthood stands?
The spotlight right now is on the potential Presidential candidates. None of the Republican candidates specifically addressed the attack until Saturday, a full day after the events took place, and then, it was on Twitter, and the statements were vague. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders released supports of sympathy. President Obama, meanwhile, stated his continued frustration with gun violence in the U.S.
The Senate voted this week on the bill that will defund Planned Parenthood, and while it was successful, it goes before President Obama now. Additionally, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, has stated that Republicans are no longer planning to force a government shutdown over the defunding of Planned Parenthood, something they had been threatening to do in early November. However, the status of Planned Parenthood’s funding remains to be seen.
How is all of this related to a prime-time television show?
Shonda Rhimes is not a woman who shies away from controversial issues, as the midseason finale of “Scandal” clearly showed us. It is Rhimes’ relevancy that strikes a nerve with viewers. She was able to show a scenario playing out in the Senate–which is exactly where the bill that may defund Planned Parenthood for a year sat at the time–when a Republican junior Senator from Virginia filibusters so that funding for Planned Parenthood is not downgraded to discretionary. Not only that, but we see Olivia Pope–a strong woman, a character with gumption–in the most vulnerable position a woman can find herself in: on a bed with her feet in stirrups and a doctor between her legs. Put the two women together in a single episode, and you leave your audience with a powerful image.
After the episode aired, Planned Parenthood released this statement:
Tonight, the millions of people who tune into Scandal every Thursday night learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack. Never one to shy away from critical issues, Shonda Rhimes used her platform to tell the world that if Planned Parenthood lost funding for contraception counseling, STI testing, cancer screenings, and safe, legal abortion—millions of people would suffer. And this episode wasn’t the first time one of Rhimes’ characters had an abortion, yet tonight we saw one of our favorite characters make the deeply personal decision that one in three women have made in their lifetime. We applaud Shonda Rhimes tonight—and every Thursday night—for proving that when women are telling our stories, the world will pause and watch. We just hope those in Congress—and throughout the nation—who are steadfast on rolling the clock back on reproductive health care access are taking note.
But, further proving the contentious nature of this issue, the conservative Media Research Counsel released their own statement the day after the episode aired:
Hollywood’s liberal values permeate movies and television. Last night’s episode of ABC’s Scandal was pretty much an hour-long advertisement for Planned Parenthood. In the most disturbing scene, the main character has an abortion to ‘Silent Night’ (a hymn celebrating the birth of Jesus) playing in the background. This is Hollywood’s moral depravity on full display.
This particular episode was an interesting juxtaposition when considered side-by-side with what is currently happening in Texas and Colorado Springs. Rhimes showed women making powerful statements about the importance and commonplaceness of women’s health organizations like Planned Parenthood. In the current contentious political climate, “Scandal’s” arc showed a fictional look at some very real issues.
Planned Parenthood will likely always be in the news; such is the case when something as polarizing as abortion is involved. Religious and moral beliefs will cause the country to be split in two on the issue, as has been the case since Planned Parenthood opened its doors one hundred years ago. As long as the issue is relevant, we will continue to see media portray the issue in different lights, both in fiction and in mainstream media. And it is likely that Planned Parenthood and the news surrounding it will stay relevant for a while.