Shawn Hubler

Shawn Hubler: What they really do at Planned Parenthood

Video Voices: What's missing in the fight over Planned Parenthood

A client at the Sacramento clinic on what's really at stake in the battle over Planned Parenthood. Video commentary for The Sacramento Bee Opinion section reported by Shawn Hubler, produced by Erika Smith
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A client at the Sacramento clinic on what's really at stake in the battle over Planned Parenthood. Video commentary for The Sacramento Bee Opinion section reported by Shawn Hubler, produced by Erika Smith

The entry to downtown Sacramento’s Planned Parenthood clinic is literally transparent. Through tall windows, you can see right into the waiting room from the sidewalk outside.

This week, the women walking in and out were equally open.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager,” said Maria Martinez, 28, of Oak Park, in for a checkup. “I was a teen mom.”

“I’m not ready to be pregnant,” shrugged Stephanie Porter, 24, of Rio Linda. “And they’ve saved me plenty of times. Like, the Plan B pills you get in the stores? They cost like $50, $60. People steal that stuff. Here, they give you condoms, Plan B pills, birth control pills, IUDs, everything.”

“I come for my examinations,” said a 37-year-old Sacramento homemaker named Luz, who was pregnant with her third and, she said firmly, last child. She’d been getting checkups and contraception at Planned Parenthood for 10 years “porque es gratis – we have emergency Medi-Cal only and it is free.”

If all you knew about Planned Parenthood was what has been in the news, you might reasonably wonder what shady business people there are up to. For weeks, a veteran of the radical anti-abortion youth group Live Action has been releasing undercover videos that purport to show the organization’s leaders illegally profiting from the sale of aborted fetuses.

Sensational as they may be, the tapes completely miss the point of Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operation, which has just about nothing to do with fetal tissue, or even abortion.

The tapes have predictably generated much political grandstanding and partisan “investigation.” I put that word in quotes because both the tapes and the furor are clearly more about galvanizing true believers in a presidential campaign year than about the legalities of using fetal tissue and stem cells for medical research.

But provocative as they may be, the tapes completely miss the point of Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operation, which has just about nothing to do with fetal tissue, or even abortion. And to spend an afternoon at one of its 700 clinics is to be reminded repeatedly just how random a tangent its enemies have taken with this fetal tissue gambit.

Not that the tapes aren’t upsetting to watch. Just as it’s grotesque to see a helpless child go unloved by some woman – or man, or teenager – who had no business at that point in life becoming a parent, most Americans have mixed feelings about abortion, and no one who has ever had one goes around boasting about it.

But 80 percent of the 2.7 million people who visit Planned Parenthood each year are like the women in downtown Sacramento, there not to commit some stigmatized last resort, but to rightly ensure that they don’t get pregnant with children they don’t want in the first place. And most of the other 20 percent are there for things such as sexually transmitted disease tests and breast exams.

That’s one reason I find this video campaign so repugnant. Planned Parenthood’s services, which mainly go to poor and uninsured people, prevent an estimated 516,000 unintended pregnancies a year.

By “prevent,” I do not mean “abort,” though last time I checked, American women still did have the legal right to decide when and whether to become mothers. Abortion is about 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does, and the second-trimester procedures they’re talking about on those tapes account for less than 10 percent of that tiny fraction.

In fact, only a handful of Planned Parenthood clinics in three states, one of which is California, facilitate research tissue donations. Outside California, a piling on of legislative hurdles that would astound you, dear reader, has made it extremely difficult and costly in most states to end a pregnancy after the first trimester.

But even if you believe all abortion is murder, even if you feel no pregnancy should be terminated, ever, why on earth would you defund an organization that annually prevents 516,000 potential abortions?

Do you really want all those babies to be force-born to people who resent them – to learn what it means to be unwanted from infancy?

On Monday, Senate Democrats beat back a Republican push to pull federal funds from Planned Parenthood, even though, by law, federal money can’t pay for abortions. Republicans piously vowed to come back and shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, if necessary, when they return from their recess next month.

The politicians are going to do what they must to hold their base in this polarized nation, just as the 26-year-old kid behind these incendiary videos is going to flog them with the rule-bound zeal of late adolescence.

But this video thing isn’t based in reason. It’s a choreographed effort to generate rage and get out the vote and stoke the culture wars and further cloud an already difficult issue.

Whatever your take on abortion – and age has taught me the hard way to respect every conceivable view of the issue – this fight demeans it. And if that’s not transparent, you might want to take another look.

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Shawn Hubler: 916-321-1646, @ShawnHubler

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