Debunking Breitbart: “Planned Parenthood Pays For Abortion”

House Republicans unveiled their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It unsurprisingly includes a provision to “defund Planned Parenthood,” purportedly over concerns that federal funds are being used to pay for abortions.

Of course, federal law already prohibits the federal government from funding abortions, except in the rarest of circumstances. Rather, most of the funds Planned Parenthood receives from the government comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for preventive care, with the remainder coming from Title X, a family planning program that, like Medicaid, serves lower-income Americans. Planned Parenthood files for these reimbursements in the same way every other medical provider does.

When CNN reported these indisputable facts, Breitbart predictably responded with an “article” whose headline read, “CNN Promotes False Claim Taxpayer Funds Do Not Aid Planned Parenthood in Providing Abortion Services.”

Breitbart “News” author, Dr. Susan Berry’s argument, was simple, if not simplistic. It is one that conservatives have smugly told one another for years, seemingly without ever examining the actual facts. It goes like this: money is fungible, freely exchangeable or replaceable, and as such some of the federal money Planned Parenthood receives for preventive services and family planning could end up being used to provide for other services including abortion.

Now, there are just two fundamental problems with this argument, one rooted in facts, the other in logic. (That’s a pretty good one-two punch, wouldn’t you say?)

First, Medicaid does not reimburse at levels whereby there could be a “surplus” money to apply towards providing abortion services. Medicaid typically does not even cover the costs of the services supposedly being reimbursed. Indeed, the main question for clinical physicians as it comes to low-income services is not what to do with all the surplus money they receive from Medicaid, but rather how to meet their moral (and professional) obligations to serve the poor while also not bankrupting their clinics, as Forbes reported in 2013.

It is a symptom of our times that I’ve heard medical doctors I know—doctors who I’ve heard complain for decades about how unfair Medicaid is, and how difficult it is to survive while serving Medicaid patients—resent Planned Parenthood for using Medicaid funds to provide abortions. It boggles the mind.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, to accept the “fungibility argument” is to argue that we all pay for abortions. If you’ve ever bought food at a grocery store, can you say for sure your dollars did not contribute to the wages of a cashier who perhaps used that money to pay for an abortion (or even just to fill her car with the gasoline needed to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic, as is the case in some states)? If not, does that mean you “paid for an abortion”? According to Breitbart and Dr. Berry, it does.

Unless you are willing to divest yourself of all cash and to retreat from the market economy completely, you will continue to fund all sorts of things you might find distasteful if not evil. Yes, that includes abortions, at least for as long as the right to an abortion is a constitutionally protected fundamental right.

If it makes you feel better, the reimbursements Planned Parenthood receives for preventive care and family planning make it less likely your hard-earned money will ultimately go towards paying for an abortion. Perhaps then we should make those preventive services more accessible, not less? As we have seen, the only argument against doing so is unsubstantiated and illogical.

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