Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization designed to aid women and men in making informed choices about becoming parents. It is the largest provider of prenatal and preventative women’s health care in the country. According to its 2014–2015 annual report, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates provided over 4 million tests for sexually transmitted diseases, nearly 3 million contraception services, over 680,000 cancer screenings and prevention services, and over a million pregnancy tests.
Planned Parenthood is also the largest abortion provider in the United States, performing about 327,000 abortions in a twelvemonth period across 2013–2014. This has led to repeated calls from some legislators to withdraw all federal funding from the organization. It has long been the case that federal funds have been forbidden from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or those in which a woman’s life or health is endangered by carrying her pregnancy to term. Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million per year from the federal government — not as a direct grant, but rather indirectly, via Medicaid and Title X reimbursements for services provided to lower income patients. These funds are used to provide basic health care, contraceptives, and prenatal care for those who cannot otherwise afford it.
In the period between 2011 and 2016, at least 162 abortion clinics closed their doors across the country. Many (though far from all) of these closures resulted from so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws, which are designed to effectively shut down abortion clinics under the guise of ensuring women’s health. These laws require clinics to secure and maintain a level of staff or equipment that is so expensive as to make it impossible, practically speaking, for many to keep their doors open. The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among other medical organizations, have judged these requirements to be unnecessary to protect women’s or fetal health. Though some of the most extreme TRAP measures were struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2016, twenty-five states still have such laws.1
Clinics that provide abortions rarely do only that — as noted earlier, Planned Parenthood clinics also provide an important variety of other services. If laws are enacted to prevent Medicaid and Title X reimbursement to Planned Parenthood for its services, this will certainly result in the closing of many of its clinics. This will surely result in fewer legal abortions being performed in the United States. But it will also mean that fewer girls and women will have access to basic medical and contraceptive services across the country, leading to an overall decrease in the quality of medical care for women and girls and an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Discussion Question: How would a consequentialist assess the question of whether to defund Planned Parenthood?