Why Shutting Down the Government Over Planned Parenthood Is A Terrible Idea (Opinion)

For the second time in two years, the U.S. government is on the brink of a shutdown over budget disputes. If Congress can’t agree on a deal by the end of this month, the federal government will be forced to shut down at midnight on September 30.

While many have downplayed the possibility of another shutdown, the chances of it happening continue to rise with each passing day.

On Sunday, budget guru Stan Collender — who has spent nearly 40 years covering federal budget battles in Washington — raised the odds of a government shutdown to 75%. Collender explained his reasoning in an op-ed for Politico Magazine:

First and foremost, there is not enough time to reach a deal. Not only have none of the fiscal 2016 appropriations yet been signed into law, none have even passed both the House and Senate,

Collender writes.

Budget expert Stan Collender, who also contributes to Forbes, Politico and a handful of other publications (Photo courtesy of Politico)

Budget expert Stan Collender, who contributes to Forbes, Politico and a handful of other publications, recently raised the odds of a government shutdown to 75% (Photo courtesy of Politico)

The main issue preventing Congress from reaching a budget agreement is the battle over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. NPR provides some background:

Abortion is driving the defund-Planned-Parenthood discussion in the wake of undercover videos from the anti-abortion-rights Center for Medical Progress. The group says its videos show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue and have sparked a political firestorm. Planned Parenthood, for its part, says it does not sell fetal tissue and claims these transactions were donations.

As the controversy became a hot-button issue in Republican politics, a group of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives — they call themselves the Freedom Caucus — decided to rally behind the cause of defunding Planned Parenthood.

The Freedom Caucus’s 40 or so members have vowed to vote against any legislation that would continue federal funding to Planned Parenthood. That includes a continuing resolution deal — a short-term agreement that would fund the government temporarily while a long term budget is negotiated.

The issue has widened a growing rift between the Freedom Caucus and the rest of the Republicans in Congress. Congressional Republicans are still recovering from the hit they took for instigating the last government shutdown in 2013, and many Republican representatives want nothing more than to avoid another GOP-led shutdown.

Unfortunately for them, the Freedom Caucus doesn’t seem to be budging:

House GOP leaders offered to provide ways other than through a continuing resolution for members to demonstrate their opposition to Planned Parenthood, but the Freedom Caucus and its supporters rejected those options as meaningless gestures,

Collender writes in an article for Forbes.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out a few key facts about Planned Parenthood. The first is that abortions are not the group’s main service. Far from it, in fact. According to Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report, only 3 percent of the services it provides are abortion related.

planned parenthood services

Source: Planned Parenthood

The group’s main service is testing and treatment for STIs and STDs, which accounts for 42 percent of its overall services. 34 percent of services are contraception-related and cancer screenings account for another 9 percent.

Some people have taken issue with Planned Parenthood’s 3 percent figure for abortion-related services. Politifact points out that some patients receive multiple services, which makes the abortion numbers look deceivingly low. But even when taking this into account, the percentage of patients who got abortions last year is still just 12 percent.

It’s also worth noting that ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood is not going to shut the organization down (at least not any time soon). 75% of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from Medicaid, which operates as a federal-state partnership. NPR explains,

States receive a 90 percent federal reimbursement on Medicaid family planning spending, for example. So when Washington politicians talk about “defunding” Planned Parenthood, they generally mean cutting off federal money. States could continue to spend as they please.

Which brings me to my final point: the highly questionable economics of shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood.

Besides the fact that it costs more to shut the government down than it does to keep it open, Planned Parenthood funding only accounts for a tiny sliver of the federal budget.

In total, the federal government spent $528 million on Planned Parenthood last year. While that might sound like a lot of money, it represented just 0.015% of the government’s $3.5 trillion budget. Here’s another way to think about it: for every $100 the government spent last year, only a penny and a half went to Planned Parenthood.

I understand that the Planned Parenthood controversy is a deeply personal issue for many Americans, and I don’t want to discount the views of anyone who is morally opposed to the organization’s abortion practices.

But as I said earlier, even if the Freedom Caucus succeeds in defunding Planned Parenthood (which analysts say is unlikely), the organization will still be able to continue operating using funds from other sources. And there’s no reason to believe that they would stop performing abortions or donating fetal tissue just because they lost their federal funding, so in terms of the pro-life cause, the victory would be hollow at best.

With all of this in mind, my question is this: do we really want to shutdown our entire government because of a dispute over Planned Parenthood, an organization that accounts for just 0.015% of the federal budget? Because as of right now, it seems like that’s exactly what we’re about to do.

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