Setting the Record Straight on Planned Parenthood

TW: This is an article about abortion and may be troubling or disturbing for some.

Usually, topics like slaughter, dismemberment and body part trafficking are reserved for horror films and death metal songs. Occasionally, you hear them in reference to war or gang activity. Rarely do these things come up during conversations about health care providers or legal medical procedures. That is, unless you are talking about Planned Parenthood and abortion.  

Planned Parenthood is, for the most part, a mundane and uninteresting organization. Since its beginnings in 1916 as the country’s first birth control clinic, it has expanded and is now the largest provider of reproductive health care and sex education in the United States. Its services consist mainly of cancer screening, STD screening and providing contraception to people who could otherwise not afford it.

You would not know any of this based on how its critics describe it.

Conservative pundits, politicians and activists talk about Planned Parenthood like it is a Josef Mengele-operated horror-hospital that specializes in cutting up babies and selling their body parts. I’m not exaggerating. “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” is a pro-life advocacy group that claim the state of abortion in the U.S. is ethically comparable to the largest ethnic cleansing in world history. In 2015, anti-abortion activist David Daleiden went undercover and filmed what he considered proof that Planned Parenthood was profiting off the sale of fetal tissue.

Nowadays, describing abortion procedures and those who provide abortion services as deranged, barbaric and reminiscent of Nazism is not the exception. It is the terribly unfortunate norm.

These narratives do not make an accurate depiction of what abortion is or what Planned Parenthood does. Not only do abortion-related procedures make up a small fraction of what Planned Parenthood clinics provide (according to a 2014 report), they are also not the graphic, murderous operations they are made out to be. In fact, an estimated 91 percent of abortions each year are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy, when fetal development is in the earliest stages. It is a misuse of language to say a fetus is a baby.

So why the misconception? If the vast majority of abortions are carried out early on, before significant psychological and neurological development, why do so many believe it to be the moral equivalent of murder? In many respects, it is because of manipulation. The aforementioned Planned Parenthood sting video, which purported to prove Planned Parenthood was profiting off of fetal body parts, ended up being heavily edited and misleading. A federal investigation into Planned Parenthood found no evidence that the organization has participated in any illegal activity, such as selling organs or limbs.

The video is also filled with outright falsehoods. At one point, it shows what is supposed to be a 19-week-old fetus. There is audio of a Planned Parenthood doctor describing the abortion process on what is assumed to be the fetus in the picture. However, as it was later revealed, the picture was not of an aborted fetus but of a stillborn baby. Not only is this incredibly misleading, but the picture was taken without the family’s permission. This is not documentary filmmaking; it is propaganda.

Another misconception is that abortion is the only service Planned Parenthood provides. This is not the case. As of 2014, STD testing and treatment made up 42 percent of medical services provided by the organization. Contraceptive care made up another 34 percent, while cancer screening made up nine percent. Abortion? Three percent. Any belief that Planned Parenthood is carrying out a “fetal genocide” is unfounded and unwarranted. Additionally, this data makes opposing Planned Parenthood seem counter-intuitive. If you are opposed to abortion, shouldn’t you support measures like contraception that prevent and limit abortion?

Undoubtedly, abortion is a sensitive subject. It shouldn’t be euphemized or taken lightly just to make our personal political ideologies easier to swallow. Abortion is shitty, and very few people are pro-abortion. However, it is manipulative and morally indefensible to show fake images and conjure up false narratives to make abortion seem more graphic and gruesome than it really is. Present people with the facts and let them make up their own minds. Misleading the public is neither ethical nor productive.

We all owe Planned Parenthood, and women who have had abortions, a sincere apology.