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Planned Parenthood: More than Pro-Choice

Laura Mauck

HIS 491a

May 17, 2017


No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body, said Margaret

Sanger who opened the first birth control and family planning clinic in Brooklyn. Planned

Parenthood provides numerous health care services such as STD tests, birth control, cancer

screenings, and sex education and outreach. (Planned Parenthood, 2016) The Republican-

controlled Congress is working to defund Planned Parenthood and other womens health care

providers simply because they provide abortion services. The debate between Pro-Life and Pro-

Choice has raged through our country since before the Supreme Court case of Roe V. Wade.

Legislation attached to womens reproductive rights can be viewed through the passage of the

Comstock laws in the 1870s. These laws made it illegal to mail any type of birth control

information or products. (Brodie, 1994) Congressman Anthony Comstock viewed preventing

conception and receiving an abortion as equals. (Brodie,1994) Margaret Sanger was warned by

doctors and nurses to stop her search for reproductive control information or she would be faced

with the Comstock laws. (Brodie, 1994) The Comstock laws have ended and thus have pulled the

focus away from a womens right to contraception. This leaves womens rights versus fetal rights

at the center stage of the debate. Technological, social, political, and economic developments in

the second half of the twentieth century have challenged the organic unity of the pregnant

woman and the fetus (Daniels, 1993, p. 1). Those on the fetal rights side view the fetus as full

citizen with rights from the earliest stages of pregnancy and view the women who seek abortions

as murderers. (Daniels, 1993) Opponents of fetal rights believe this as an attempt to recreate the

social domination of women through the power of the state. (Daniels, 1993) This ethical issue

has heavy implications of religion attached. The Catholic Church and conservative Protestant

groups have been adamantly vocal against abortion and have campaigned to outlaw the practice.

(Schoenig, 2001) Christians believe that their God bestows a soul upon a fertilized human egg

which gives it the same right to life as any adult human. (Schoenig, 2001) Looking outside of

this argument between fetal rights and womens rights, there is still much that Planned

Parenthood provides for women in our country. The impact of defunding Planned Parenthood

would be most felt by those of the lower class because about 60% of women treated in clinics

rely on federal programs such as Medicaid. (Planned Parenthood, 2016) Some states have

already taken measures to ensure that Planned Parenthood would remain funded. (Facher, 2017)

Planned Parenthood receives funding from federal, state, and sometimes local government and

this governmental funding accounted for 41% of the companys revenue in the 2013-2014 fiscal

year. (Ross, 2015) None of that funding can go towards abortion services since it was banned by

law since 1976. (Ross, 2015) Opponents of Planned Parenthood argue that though federal

funding may not go directly to abortion services the funding keeps the company open which

allows them to continue that practice. The argument for defunding Planned Parenthood relies

heavily on religious views and cannot hold up against the positives. Planned Parenthood should

continue to be funded by the federal government because it provides essential and life-saving

care to individuals who need it the most.

Birth control is as term that was not coined until the twentieth century. In the nineteenth-

century there were more contrived terms such as the prevention of conception, the limitation

of offspring, the prevention of pregnancy, the anti-conception art, regulating

reproduction, limitation of the family, and the laws regulating and controlling the female

system. (Brodie, 1994) Those who were in favor still had lengthy terms such as physician

Thomas Low Nichols who called it, the means and processes for the healthy regulation and

voluntary control of the maternal function (Brodie, 1994 p. 5) Opponents used harsh terms such

as evasions of natures laws, crimes without names, marital masturbation, and artificial

methods of preventing fecundation. (Brodie, 1994 p. 5) The various types of contraception each

had several different names such as the diaphragm which was also known as womb veils,

female preventatives, female protectors, Victorias protectors, the French pessary, the

Pessaire Preventif, or just F.P. (Brodie, 1994 p. 5) This wide range of terminology stems

from the prudish nature of people during this time period as many Americas found it difficult to

give clear names to sexual anatomy, sexual intercourse, and to reproductive control. (Brodie,

1994) The thought that a couple could have control over the size of their family was

revolutionary but it was during the Jacksonian time, 1824 to 1840, in which the idea that there

were two separate spheres of life; the public sphere where the men reside and the private sphere

in which women, children, and families reside. (Brodie, 1994) Confusion occurred because of

the argument that reproductive control should be a private matter but it was quickly becoming

commercial and public. (Brodie, 1994) Books on the subject and devices for reproductive control

were advertised and available for sale until the Comstock laws of the 1870s and 1880s. (Brodie,

1994) Ideology played the main role in holding back reproductive control as the modern Western

religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all condemned at least some aspects of birth control

and Christianity distrusted sexual pleasure in of itself. (Gordon, 2007) Congressman Anthony

Comstock added a section to the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene

Literature and Articles of Immoral Use that made anything pertaining to the prevention of

conception and procuring an abortion to its list of items deemed obscene. (Brodie, 1994) The

Comstock law made it illegal to mail or receive mail about any form of birth control or

abortions; twenty-four states added extensions to this law Nevada, Iowa, and twelve others who

made verbal transmission of information illegal as well. (Brodie, 1994) Connecticut had the most

stringent law that made it illegal to just control conception which is why it was the state chosen

by the defendant Griswold in the 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswald v. Connecticut, in which

the court sided with Griswald and declared any state that had a law against using contraceptive

devices or those who operated birth control clinics was now invalid. (Brodie, 1994) The 1972

Supreme Court case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, declared that married couples could not be barred from

getting contraceptives through a physician because that would be a violation of the Fourteenth

Amendment. (Brodie, 1994) The 1977 Supreme Court case, Carey v. Population Services

International, allowed minors to buy contraceptives outside of the pharmacists as well as

allowing advertisements and display of contraceptives. (Brodie, 1994) It took nearly a century

for these court cases to overturn the Comstock laws.

Comstock had been backed by the founders and leading members of committees for the

suppression of vice who were raised in small towns or farms and were often from deeply

religious families. (Brodie, 1994) These men were a part of the larger social purity reform

movement that formed in the decades following the Civil War. Men and women from this group

endorsed temperance, Sunday closing laws, a control of prostitution, and to suppress obscenity.

(Brodie, 1994) These reformers worked towards giving the state power over the areas of life that

many saw as private since the state worked to regulate or restrict gambling, drinking, narcotics,

and child labor. (Brodie, 1994) The social purity reforms had two sides; the liberal side that

pushed for legal equality for all persons and the conservative side that worked to enforce

Calvinistic moral values onto the whole society. (Gordon, 2007) Comstock would use

entrapment to prosecute advertisers and vendors of syringes by writing to them under a false

name, asking for a syringe, and the arresting whoever sent it. (Gordon, 2007) Female eugenics in

the 1890s were pro-motherhood and their arguments were so strong that it caused some feminists

to change their minds and argue against privileged women who sought out higher education and

professional employment because it brought the most able women away from motherhood.

(Gordon, 2007) The eugenics organization and propaganda was more effective in putting across

their antifeminist and anti-birth control ideas and gave a scientific basis to the elevation of

motherhood that the social purity reform had provided the initial thoughts. (Gordon, 2007) The

eugenics gave the assumption that the purpose of a womans life was reproduction and

motherhood was a part of nature. (Gordon, 2007) Some leading gynecologists of the time also

were against birth control almost as much as they were against abortion with one William

Goodell listing, the unwillingness of our women to become mothers as one of the dangers of the

hour (Brodie, 1994 p. 272).

Initially few opposed the Comstock and antiabortion laws. The Physicians who did

oppose them were more concerned that the laws told physicians what to do not because they felt

abortion should be in the hands of women. (Brodie, 1994) The Cincinnati Medical News

published a discussion in 1890 between fifteen physicians and asked the question, Is the

prevention of conception justifiable? (Brodie, 1994 p. 277) Only three of them felt that it was

not, with one Dr. Gibson arguing if it was right then abortion would also be right and another Dr.

Mulheron who saw prevention of conception as an act against society. (Brodie, 1994) There were

only two groups who worked as groups to openly oppose the Comstock laws; the free-thinkers,

who later simply referred to themselves as liberals, and the advocates of free love, individual

anarchism, and far-reaching reforms in gender relations, today simply referred to as sex radicals.

(Brodie, 1994) The freethinkers in the National Liberal League sought to repel the Comstock

laws on the grounds that free speech and freedom of the press should not be restricted and sent a

petition to Congress with seventy thousand signatures protesting the Comstock laws. (Brodie,


The impact of this censorship could be seen well into the mid-twentieth century as it

drove reproductive service and information underground causing the working-class women of

the 1960s to be as equally informed in some areas and less informed in others when compared to

the middle-class women of a century earlier. (Brodie, 1994) The Supreme Court ruled in 1877

that the Comstock Law did not deny free speech and many fell under charges from the Comstock

Law such as Margaret Sanger who was convicted of a misdemeanor in New York for violating

the state law against the selling, lending, giving, advertising, loaning or any distribution of a

recipe, drug, or medicine that would prevent conception. (Brodie, 1994) Medical journals

discussing the subject were hampered because of how they were distributed by mail and many

doctors were uncertain if they could legally discuss birth control with each other or with patients

in private. (Brodie, 1994) Many state laws provided an exception for physicians to perform an

abortion if it was to save a womans life but this ended up restricting legal abortions in the

twentieth century as childbirth became a more routine hospital procedure which led to hospital

boards of physicians having to rule on the merits of each request. (Brodie, 1994) The laws were

vague on what could be considered saving a womens life and if it only referred to immediate

life-threatening conditions or if longer-range factors could be considered. (Brodie, 1994) These

laws did not make legal or illegal abortions disappear with a ratio of legal to illegal abortions

being 1 to 110 in 1966. (Brodie, 1994) The Comstock laws pushed the poor and the young to

only have access to the most dangerous abortions from abortion mills and unlicensed

practitioners while middle and upper class women could find loopholes with therapeutic

abortion at a high cost from private family physicians. (Brodie, 1994)

The landmark case Roe v. Wade ruled that women have the constitutional right to obtain

an abortion but the concept of pregnancy and consent were missing. (McDonagh, 1994) The

Supreme Court adopted the definition of abortion provided by the American Bar Association,

termination of human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to

remove a dead fetus (McDonagh, 1994 p. 21). The court detailed the exploration of the legal

status of the fetus with a history of attitudes and practices dating from the ancient times of

Greece yet there is no detail of what medical professionals or philosophical authorities thought

about pregnancy. (McDonagh, 1994) The Supreme Court determined that a fetus could not be

deemed a person eligible for constitutional protection under the Fourteenth Amendment because

the fetus was not yet born and the Fourteenth Amendment specifically refers to born people.

(McDonagh, 1994) The level of detail about abortion was absent when it came to the description

of pregnancy and has led the five cultural assumptions about pregnancy into specific legal

doctrines. (McDonagh, 1994) The first doctrine detailed was the concept of women as vessels

which occurred when the Court extended the right of privacy to include a womens decision to

end a pregnancy with an abortion. (McDonagh, 1994) The Court detailed that since a pregnant

woman carries life within her then her privacy is no longer sole and any right of privacy she has

must be measured accordingly. (McDonagh, 1994) This would mean that the womens right of

privacy would then be balanced against the rights of the fetus that she carries. (McDonagh, 1994)

The second doctrine of fetal development embraced by the Supreme Court as it assumed that

pregnancy is a condition defined by what happens to the fetuss body over time and not the

womans body which is showcased in the trimester system. (McDonagh, 1994) A women loses

her right to privacy when the fetus becomes able to live outside of the womb and the Supreme

Court left this decision to the States. (McDonagh, 1994) The cultural concept that pregnancy is

caused by sex led the Court to create the rape and incest exceptions doctrine. (McDonagh, 1994)

The definition of pregnancy as a burdensome condition was acknowledged by the Court stating

that it entails anxieties, physical constraints, intimate and personal suffering, and pain that only

the pregnant woman bears; yet these were all normal as long as they did not threaten the

womans life. (McDonagh, 1994) This concept of pregnancy as burden helped the Court to

develop the difference between therapeutic and nontherapeutic abortions and only when the

burdens become life threatening would the abortion be considered therapeutic. (McDonagh,

1994) The last definition of pregnancy described is its value to society and is the basis for the

Courts childbirth preference doctrine. (McDonagh, 1994) This is showcased in that there is no

limitation for States to provide funding for childbirth while denying funds for abortion.

(McDonagh, 1994)

What then is missing from the Supreme Courts reasoning is a formal definition of

pregnancy. (McDonagh, 1994) A law dictionary defines pregnancy as the condition in a

womens body resulting from the fertilized ovum beginning at the moment of conception and

terminating with the delivery of the child (McDonagh, 1994 p. 31) This definition showcases

that pregnancy is a condition that results from the fertilized ovum and provokes a womens right

to bodily integrity. (McDonagh, 1994) The right to control ones body, free of state intrusion, is

one of the most fundamental rights of liberal citizenship. To compromise this right is to

compromise self-sovereignty at its most fundamental level (Daniels, 1993 p. 32-33) This basic

right is guaranteed throughout various cases such as suspected drug dealers cannot be forced to

have their stomachs pumped if they swallow evidence to parents not being forced to donate

organs to children even if they are the only appropriate donor and organs cannot be taken from

the deceased unless they gave consent prior to their death. (Daniels, 1993) This is in stark

contrast to pregnant women who have had medical treatments forced upon them. Daniels (1993)

reports at least thirty-six cases were filed in the courts of twenty-six different states in which

pregnant women had various medical treatments forced upon them. Thirty-five of the forty-six

states that have living-will laws restrict a womens right to die when they are both severely ill

and pregnant and twenty of the states disqualify a pregnant woman the right to die the moment

she becomes pregnant. (Daniels, 1993) A fetuss claim to life in the last trimester is balanced

against the civil rights of the woman but why is this different from the child in need of an organ

transplant from a living relative? (Daniels, 1993)

Christians are at the forefront of the opposition to abortions as they believe that it is

morally wrong yet there are ways that this argument is not fully coherent with other Christian

beliefs. (Schoenig, 2001) Christians believe in an eternal life after death in either heaven or hell

and the most important goal for conservative Christians is to earn eternal salvation in heaven.

(Schoenig, 2001) Luke 18:16 states, But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little

children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Why would

God care less for aborted humans when he would prefer salvation for all? (Schoenig, 2001) Mark

8:36 states, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own

soul? The aborted fetus would thus die in innocence and, from a conservative Christian view, in

a state of salvation. (Schoenig, 2001) Yet a Christian may still argue that an abortion contradicts

Gods plan for the conception but if God does not overrule peoples free choice then his plan

would be provisional since it would always be subject to the free choices made. (Schoenig, 2001)

Another area that is difficult for Christian abortion opponents to answer is the fate of frozen

fertilized human eggs. Around two million American couples a year seek out treatment for

infertility by visiting fertilization clinics with the most common procedure using four fertilized

eggs for a procedure and leaving four others in zygote stage frozen for future use. (Schoenig,

2001) The time at which a soul is attached to the fetus has changed over time originally during

the quickening but the most commonly accepted conservative Christian view today is at the

moment of conception. (Schoenig, 2001) So would an institution warehousing these frozen

zygotes be charged for disposing them if they are unclaimed? If the view that conception is the

moment when a soul enters the fetus then Christians should believe that the frozen zygotes need

to have uteruses to nurture them to birth. (Schoenig, 2001) Christians moral argument against

funding of Planned Parenthood, due to some of their facilities providing abortions, is precarious.

Opponents of abortion should show more support towards Planned Parenthood as their

researchers have worked on studies to provide women more options to avoid unplanned

pregnancies which in turn means they prevented possible abortions. (Planned Parenthood, 2016)

The Lancet published a study in 2015 by Planned Parenthood affiliates and researchers at the

University of California that showed when health care providers were trained in contraceptive

counseling and on insertion of most effective reversible birth control, IUDs and implants, their

patients were better in their choices for contraceptives and the unintended pregnancies decreased

over the period of one year. (Planned Parenthood, 2016) Most parents and teens support sex

education, over ninety percent, and Planned Parenthood is the largest provider reaching out to 1.5

million people in 2014. Their curriculum for middle school, Get Real: Comprehensive Sex

Education That Works, helped many students to decide to wait until they were older to have sex.

(Planned Parenthood, 2016) Between October 1st, 2013 and September 30th, 2014, Planned

Parenthood performed 635,342 pap test and breast exams, provided birth control information and

services to 2,945,059 people, and provided 4,218149 tests and treatments for sexually

transmitted diseases. (Planned Parenthood, 2016)

If Planned Parenthood was to be defunded then millions would lose access to publicly

funded family planning even though it has been one of the governments most cost-effective

public investments. (Flynn, 2015) A study done by the Guttmacher Institute showed that sixty-

three percent of women who obtained contraceptive care from publicly funded clinics were

better able to take care of themselves and their family, fifty-six percent said it helped them take

better care of their finances, and fifty percent said it helped them stay in school and helped them

to get a job or advance their careers. (Flynn, 2015) The National Womens Law Center

showcased research that noted a thirty percent increase in the number of women in skilled

careers between 1970 and 1990 and this can be linked to the start of the birth control pill. (Flynn,

2015) Funding for reproductive health is good for the economy as well. The Guttmacher Institute

estimated in 2010 that for every dollar that goes toward family planning, public expenditures

save a total of $7.09. (Hillstein, 2017) Republicans argue that funding for family planning is way

too high but Title Xs budget is about two-thirds of what it was in 1980 when accounting for

inflation. (Flynn, 2015) The Congressional Budget Office has even stated that government

spending would increase by $130 million over a decade if Planned Parenthood was defunded.

(Hillstein, 2017) Republicans say they do not want to entirely defund womens health care, they

only want to remove funding from the organizations they agree with and the funds could be

provided to other organizations that could give the same services. Yet there is nowhere near

enough other providers to take up all the patients that are currently going to Planned Parenthood.

(Flynn, 2015) The Guttmacher Institute researched 491 counties that had Planned Parenthood

clinics and found that 103 of them were the only location for low-income patients to receive

affordable birth control services and 332 of them covered at least one half of clients who rely on

safety-net providers. (Culp-Ressler, 2015) It would be nave to think that other health care

providers could be able to easily service all of the patients that would need care if Planned

Parenthood were to be defunded.


Birth control may not have always had its simple name but families have wanted the

ability to control the size of their family for centuries in America. The Comstock laws of the

1870s and 1880s pushed knowledge of the subject underground and fined people for just talking

about how to prevent conception. Supreme Court cases helped to overturn these laws nearly a

century later. The landmark case of Roe v. Wade made it legal for women to obtain an abortion

but also helped to push doctrines that allowed people to argue for Fetal rights vs. Womens

rights. Those who wish to defund Planned Parenthood base their argument on the fact that the

organization provides abortion and they believe it to be morally wrong yet there are arguments in

their religion that counter this belief. Planned Parenthood provides numerous health care services

to millions of low-income individuals in America. Defunding the organization would not only

hurt these individuals but would also hurt the country economically in the long run.

Word Count: 3839



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Culp-Ressler, T (2015, Sept. 9) New Research Shows the Disastrous Outcome of Defunding

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Daniels, C. R. (1993). At Women's Expense: State Power and the Politics of Fetal Rights.

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America. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

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