Super Tuesday: Planned Parenthood in the pro-life, pro-choice debate

Opinion by James Stephens
Oct. 6, 2015, 11:00 a.m.

The national discussion occurring over the funding of Planned Parenthood has raised several debates, touching back to those during Roe v. Wade in 1973. Amidst the CEO of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards testifying in marathon committee hearings and Republican Presidential hopefuls powerfully condemning doctored videos of a procedure that may or may not have been an abortion, the federal legality of abortion has come to the country’s attention.

My opponent and I, after discussing the funding of Planned Parenthood and the Congressional fiscal turmoil surrounding it, have decided to engage in a constitutional and conceptual debate on the legalization of abortion. I am arguing for the Pro-Life side against the legality of abortion. In the September issue of The Economist, an article on Planned Parenthood funding raised an interesting point: Anti-abortion campaigners, including the National Right to Life Committee, have determined that the proposal by the Freedom Caucus — a faction developing in the House of Representatives — to shut down the government over federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood would cause reputational damage to the Pro-Life campaign. Thus, we look beyond the argument over the Planned Parenthood and focus on a much more aged debate.

Primarily, constitutionally speaking, the 10th amendment asserts that the powers not delegated to the federal government are delegated to the state governments. Additionally, the 14th amendment and the opinion in Mugler v. Kansas determine that state governments address laws concerning the health, safety and morals of the public. The decision and procedure of abortion is a moral situation on the grounds that the basic value of a society is life. Life must be a fundamental right since all other natural rights, including liberty, possession of property and procreation, all stem from the right to a person’s own life. Thus, abortion calls for funding and regulations to originate from the states. The first part of this argument claims that the legal decision should come democratically through state governments (the U.S. nation is almost divided in half on whether abortion in certain circumstances should be legal). The second consideration is conceptual, and based on the premise that life begins at conception.

Natural rights are atemporal. I have the same rights now as I did when my life began. We cannot affirm that a fetus is a person and we cannot affirm that a fetus is not a person. Thus, consider this matrix:

  1. It is a person, and you know it.
  2. It is a person and you don’t know it.
  3. It is not a person and you know it.
  4. It is not a person and you don’t know it.

The only appropriate scenario for the legalization of abortion is #3, on which we cannot rely. I am not stating that the life of an unborn child trumps the rights of a mother. I am simply saying that the right to choose to abort the child does not trump the rights of an unborn child in elective circumstances. Using the same thought process as is used in self-defense cases, I concede that abortion can be made legal for circumstances such as sexual assault. Furthermore, I concede to the premise that being pregnant changes a woman’s identity physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially and economically. Much of the debate on abortion loses sight of this, and that perhaps makes an argument for a woman’s choice trumping an unborn child’s life. It is a process that I, as a man, can never fully understand. Taking those concessions into account, I cannot support the lethal intervention of the process of life and motherhood and claim that a fetus, that is alive, does not have a chance at a life.

After discussing abortion with political science professors, debaters and liberal peers, and gaining an economist’s perspective on abortion, I have yet to be convinced that a woman who participated in consensual sex, living in an economically developed country with sexual education as prevalent as it is, can make a decision on cutting short the life of what could be a person. Even though the quality of sexual education varies from state to state, the basic concept of unprotected sex leading to pregnancy is taught in various ways in biology, health, as well as sex ed courses. Concluding with a Buddhist Precept, a person should abstain from the destruction of life, as a destruction of life, at any stage of life, is the destruction of a world.

Contact Jimmy Stephens at james214 ‘at’



The Republican push to strip Planned Parenthood of about $500 million in annual federal funding is in the news again, and it’s just as terrible an idea as before. Since federal dollars cannot legally fund abortions, defunding Planned Parenthood would instead deprive millions of women, mostly low-income Medicaid patients, of access to affordable family planning services. This is a vital service, and Planned Parenthood is better at it than anyone. This annual half-a-billion-dollars’ worth of health services prevents countless STDs, unwanted pregnancies and health complications every year — saving taxpayers a lot of money and extending lifespans in the process.

Planned Parenthood’s preventive approach to family planning stops hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies (and abortions) every year. And since not one penny of the half-a-billion dollars funds abortions, but rather services that prevent the need for an abortion in the first place, why are Republicans so hell-bent on defunding the organization?

Jeb Bush’s answer was enlightening: “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Oops.

According to his campaign, Bush misspoke. He rather intended to slander Planned Parenthood for “callously profiting off the sale of fetal organs,” even though every state investigation has concluded that Planned Parenthood does not profit from donating to fetal tissue research — research which, by the way, has contributed to Parkinson’s disease treatments, rubella prevention and the development of the polio vaccine.

Of course Bush “misspoke,” but his words sum up the war on Planned Parenthood nicely: Defund Planned Parenthood now and worry about women’s health later.

Look how disastrously that philosophy is turning out in Louisiana, where Governor Bobby Jindal recently provided a federal judge with a list of 2,000 family planning providers he claimed could accommodate new low-income patients after he defunds Planned Parenthood. The judge found the list padded with hundreds of entries for dermatologists, audiologists, and dentists.

“[This is] what you’re representing to the court?” the judge asked incredulously. “You’re telling me that they can provide family planning and related services?” No, Your Honor, they cannot. Planned Parenthood is so affordable and well-run that it’s simply irreplaceable to the millions of women who rely on it.

There are many who agree that Planned Parenthood performs important women’s health services, but who cannot side with an organization that performs abortions. Many would outlaw abortions entirely.

The conviction at the heart of this argument is that life begins at conception, which translates to: The government should consider a fertilized egg a legal person. Specifically, a fertilized egg deserves constitutional guarantees of equal protection of laws and due process of law.

A fertilized egg cannot survive outside the womb, feel pain or think, so the argument for this position is that a fertilized egg has human DNA. But are we willing as a society to deprive millions of women of essential health services — in other words, to defund Planned Parenthood — in pursuit of granting personhood to a fertilized egg? If so, we must also be willing to tell every woman that if her sexual partner’s condom fails, which happens at a rate of 15 percent, then she may have to carry and give birth to his baby. We must be willing to tell rape victims the same thing.

On one end of the balance is a cell with unique human DNA; on the other are the lives of millions of men and women who would like to have children when they are ready, when it won’t cost them their jobs, disrupt their educations or otherwise negatively impact their lives. With this balance in mind, I think extending due process to a fertilized egg is a disruptive and extreme way to reduce the number of abortions.

I support instead a number of less extreme, more supportive policies to reduce the number of abortions. We should promote sex education in schools, provide low-income neighborhoods with affordable family planning services, and provide federal family leave. Given that 40 percent of women get abortions because of financial concerns, we should support anti-poverty measures. Such approaches reduce the number of abortions without forcing millions of women to have babies that they are not prepared to bring into the world.

And what’s the name of the organization that supports such policies and provides such services? I’ll give you a hint: Republicans want to defund it.

Contact Cory Herro at cherro ‘at’

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