The Silly Calls for Congress to Investigate Planned Parenthood

If you were noncommittal in debates about abortion (if you were, say, in the “personally squicked out, but not so keen on making it illegal either, but mostly don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it” camp), how would you react to the claims made in Americans United For Life’s Planned Parenthood report?

I mean, that’s one of the few undecideds, isn’t it? We know how the people with strong positions will react. The report will galvanize AUL’s constituency, while meanwhile Planned Parenthood supporters will respond with corrections and rebuttals. Some elected officials are counted in one of those groups, while others will watch to see if the report gains traction among their constituencies.

Indeed, maybe for those reasons it hardly matters. But say you’re noncommittal, and yet for some reason you find yourself reading the 31-page document with an appendix many times that lengthy. What would you conclude?

Well, I’m not noncommittal, so I can only speculate. My hunch, my guess, is that you’d think: Oh. Um. Why do they think this is a job for Congress? Because that’s what the report is intended to do: make the case for a thorough congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood. The thing is, it’s not clear how that conclusion follows from the report. 

Here’s a rundown of what’s in there:

There are, first, suggestions that something wicked must be afoot because Planned Parenthood is increasing its (as the report likes to say) “market share” of the total number of abortions performed in the United States. If you were hoping to then see a careful accounting of why other variables do not explain this phenomenon—income factors that may have made low-cost clinics more appealing, or the number of abortion clinics in the U.S. and how that has changed over the time period in question, or the possibility that people in private practice would rather not perform abortions for any number of possible reasons, including threats on their lives—you’d be left unsatisfied.  

Likewise, the report expresses grave concern over the fact that the very same clinics that seek Title X reimbursements for contraception are also the clinics perform a lot of abortions. The implication (if I understand correctly) is that Planned Parenthood must be misappropriating “family planning” funds for abortion, which is against the law. Um… Sure, okay. OR, something else could account for why clinics that provide low-income folks with contraception might also be the clinics where a lot of people go for abortions. Economic and sociological factors, maybe. Just brainstorming.

There are also some the truthy bits: the things that sound really alarming until you google them and get the whole story. For example, the report discusses an investigation of Planned Parenthood in California, precipitated by one of the PP staff accusing the organization of overbilling Medicaid for family planning services. This is, we are meant to believe, a serious indictment of Planned Parenthood of California, and moreover, one piece of a growing mountain of evidence casting suspicion on the entire organization.

Actually, here’s what happened, according to the LA Times: The state law was unclear, and said that Medicaid should be reimbursed for birth control pill packs “at cost.” Planned Parenthood negotiated with drug companies for really low prices on the pills, thus keeping costs down; but then billed Medicaid for what they paid for the pills as well as what it cost to store and dispense them. Suddenly Planned Parenthood’s billing seems a lot more reasonable, right? So reasonable, in fact, that Planned Parenthood of California wasn’t even asked to pay back the overcharge, and the state law was changed to…  let Planned Parenthood bill Medicaid in exactly the way they’d been doing all along.

And there’s an old story about a Planned Parenthood client who, years after the fact, wrote in to thank Planned Parenthood for the support she was given after she was raped by her boyfriend at 13. She doesn’t say she told them about the rape at the time; she doesn’t say that the staff failed to report it; and indeed, her words were posted as a testimonial on a Planned Parenthood-affiliated website (only to be taken down later, when some pro-life activists drew the conclusion that someone at Planned Parenthood must have knowingly let the rape go unreported). This is supposed to be a sinister, telling, part of the growing mountain of evidence.

Finally, then there are some incidents that do seem like they might be instances of genuine wrongdoing, mainly having to do with Planned Parenthood staff notifying the appropriate people when a someone reports rape, statutory rape, and/or sex trafficking. For example, we all know about, and the report certainly mentions, the Planned Parenthood employee on Lila Rose’s video who didn’t follow her duty to report a (staged) report of statutory rape. She was fired. And so the report raises the question: How do we know that this isn’t a persistent pattern of corruption? To which it then suggests an answer: We had better spend money on an investigation.

But isn’t that a hasty conclusion? Because, honestly, I don’t know how anyone could read the report (along with the gargantuan appendix) and not come away thinking: Yeesh, it seems like Planned Parenthood is monitored pretty thoroughly already… and that this is what’s been turned up because this is what there is. Audit after audit, undertaken by the government (because Planned Parenthood receives Medicaid reimbursement); investigation after investigation, undertaken by Planned Parenthood’s sworn enemies… and what do we have? Some overbilling, not all of which clearly shows any kind of sneaky intent. Some unintentional errors in procedure that, unfortunately, do happen in all areas of medicine because medicine is done by people. And, yes, a small but non-zero number of instances of employees knowingly doing things they shouldn’t—which lots of people already knew about because those incidents have been thoroughly shouted about on the internet.   

The conspicuously unasked question is: Is there any positive reason to think there’s a bigger problem here that would be helped by more investigation? Hypothetically, if regular government audits, and close round-the-clock scrutiny from its own sworn enemies have not turned up more, and have failed to keep Planned Parenthood honest (and I’m not saying that’s the case), then why would a congressional investigation do so? Those are the dots that the report exactly fails to connect: why are we supposed to think there’s more, and why are we supposed to believe a congressional investigation will help any problem that exists? And, not to sound callous, but government investigations aren’t free… I seem to recall some politicians lately crowing about the need to cut spending.

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