Monday, March 14, 2011

Planned Hatred

Being a conscientious participant in the American democratic process, I recently wrote to my congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rogers. The purpose of my email was to express my dissatisfaction with Ms. McMorris Rogers concerning her decision to stand with the majority of her party in the House of Representatives in voting to eliminate government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The ideological context of funding Planned Parenthood may appear complicated, and I won't go into it here; suffice it to say that regardless of how you feel about abortion (whether you think it's a right or a wrong, if you'll excuse my pun), the fact is that the "planning" portion of Planned Parenthood's budget far surpasses the portion dedicated to abortions, and it is further not unreasonable to theorize that PPH prevents--through education and contraception--far more abortions than it provides. (I, regrettably, have not researched any empirical support for this claim, and I welcome comments with evidence.)

Ms. McMorris Rogers replied to my email with a form letter, replicated below:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for contacting me regarding funding for Planned Parenthood. It is an honor to represent the people of Eastern Washington and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

I do not believe that federal funds should go to Planned Parenthood. Last year, U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) did a study revealing that the federal government's support for Planned Parenthood has reached billions, a large percentage of which go to family planning services. In 2009, according to Planned Parenthood's own records, 332,278 abortions were performed. This is unacceptable. The GAO study and Planned Parenthood's statistics demonstrate that in the last several years, focus has not been on the needs of the county. We need to focus on jobs, balancing the budget, and our national debt. To that end, I supported efforts to eliminate federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

Thank you again for contacting me on this important issue. As your Representative in Congress, I am committed to putting the best interests of Eastern Washington first. I invite you to visit my website at for additional information or to sign up for my e-newsletter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

Best Wishes,
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Member of Congress

Now, one expects that she would avoid supporting her position that 332,278 abortions is "unacceptable." (It seems to me a startlingly low number when compared to any cause of death--driving for example, or smoking, or war. Again, I welcome evidence on this point.) The American debate on abortion is not a debate, after all, but the statement of claims.

What I take issue with, or rather, what I did not expect, was the claim that "the federal government's support for Planned Parenthood has reached billions." Billions of dollars, it is presumed. She does not specify the time period, but since budget numbers are often presented in annual totals, it seems that this is her implication. According to (an anti-choice site), the GAO number is $650 million, but not over one year: $650 million over seven years. ( goes on to tally funding for plan B outside of PPH--which they count as abortion. Taken together, these numbers to total to over $1 billion, though again over seven years. Nevermind, again, that most of this funding--95% in the case of PPH--goes to family planning, not to abortions. And nevermind again that they will not analyze the logic behind their claim that abortion is evil.)

I do not know what percentage of the annual budget PPH funding constitutes (and still does as long as none of these budgets are signed), but I do know it is pathetically small. The federal assault on PPH (as well as PBS and NPR), while couched in terms of deficits, is ideological, but in order to garner wide-spread public support, it is important to deceive the voting public into believing that the dollar amounts dedicated to PPH (as well as PBS and NPR) are far larger than they are.

Many have commented on why this ideological war is being waged, particularly taking note of the odd alliance between the extremely wealthy and the middle and lower classes. The explanation du jour is that Republicans since Reagan are exploiting the socially conservative bias of much of the middle and lower class in order to convince them to vote against their own interests. This explanation is compelling, and surely true, but it doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter, at least not in the present-day setting. In fact, from one perspective, we might suggest that the right has an incentive not to pass thoroughly regressive legislation, since doing so would erode the dedication of their base; why bother to vote if you're agenda has already passed?

I think Naomi Wolf's editorial on feminism in the Middle East revolts, which you can find at al Jazeera, sheds some further light. Wolf argues that one important source for the relative success of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has been the dramatic increase in the number of educated women in these countries, saying that it is easy to rule a population when over half of them cannot read or write (and therefore organize in a modern world). The success of the ruling class, in other words, is defined in large part by the structured partitioning of its population. Here we find, in clear terms, the core of conservatism, as well as where its name comes from. The business of the ruling class (and this is why business is allied with the right) is to maintain or solidify its strength, and this is achieved through partitioning its subjects.

The attack on PPH, which provides birth control--both in the form of contraception and in the form of education--to millions of women, is an attack on women themselves. But, of course, not all women. Wealthy women are not effected, nor are many rightist Christian women, who see their own bodies as baby machines. Many feminists have commented on the importance of the development of effective and affordable birth control for the emancipation of women. When we dismantle PPH, we revoke the access to birth control, and therefore to relatively unfettered admittance into a society of equals, to countless low-income women.

There is no such childish thing as evil. People do tremendously bad things, and perhaps they sometimes do them for no reason. But the strategic decision to exclude millions of women from a society of equals is not done to hurt those women, it is done to keep society divided and weak. To borrow from Stephen Colbert, these are the least of our brothers and sisters--as are the teachers in Wisconsin, or the "illegal" immigrants in Arizona. They are not being attacked out of bigotry or hatred; they are being attacked in order to cultivate bigotry and hatred.