By Bob Smietana / The Tennessean
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood and its critics -
including U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black - are engaged in a
fierce brand war.
The billion-dollar charity wants to protect its image as a trusted health-care provider and advocate for women.
Its critics say the nation's largest abortion provider is a rogue organization that misuses federal funds.
stake is more than $500 million in government funds for Planned
Parenthood's health care, prevention, and education programs. Those
funds can't be used for abortion.
Blackburn and Black, both
Republicans, claim the funds subsidize abortion programs. Both
introduced bills in January to ban abortion providers like Planned
Parenthood from Title X grants for family planning.
Parenthood received $542 million from Uncle Sam last year - they don't
need or deserve your money," Blackburn said in an email.
Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said the bills would harm
those who rely on the nonprofit for health care. She dismissed Blackburn
and Black as out of touch with the American public.
"Some members of Congress just don't get it," she said in a statement on the bills.
Controversy over Planned Parenthood is fueled by the nonprofit's dual
identity. It is both the nation's largest abortion provider and a major
source of health care for women.
According to its latest annual
report, the non-profit performed about 334,000 abortions in its 750
clinics nationwide. That's a little more than a quarter of abortions in
the United States.
About 10 percent of Planned Parenthood's 3
million clients had an abortion. It's not clear how much they paid for
the procedures, as the nonprofit did not report the details of its
According to the New York-based Guttmacher
Institute, the average abortion cost $451 in the United States. If each
client paid the national average, that adds up to about $150 million, or
15 percent of the nonprofit's budget.
Planned Parenthood also
provided about 10.8 million health care services in 2011. A third of
those services were for contraception. Another 41 percent were for
sexually transmitted infection tests. Twelve percent were for cancer
screenings, and 11 percent for other women's health services. Abortions
were 3 percent of services.
Its Nashville-based chapter, Planned
Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, provided 3,124 abortions in
2011. Surgical fees for abortion made up 43 percent of the chapter's
revenue, or $1.26 million, according to the group's annual tax returns.
Teague, director of the Nashville-based chapter, said the group
provided a total of 20,053 services to about 7,500 clients in 2011. Of
those services, 40.6 percent were for family planning and 22.7 percent
for sexually transmitted infection tests. Pap smears were 4.8 percent of
services, pregnancy tests were 7.8 percent, HIV tests were 3.6 percent
and emergency contraception was 4.6 percent. Only 15.5 percent were for
"We are a health-care provider," said Teague. "Yes we do
provide abortion service, but the vast majority of what we do is
preventative health care."
'One abortion is too many'
That argument doesn't sway critics like David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee.
says the percentage of abortions doesn't matter. Since Planned
Parenthood does abortions, it should not get any government funds. "One
abortion is too many," he said.
Local and national activists have
been battling Planned Parenthood for years. In the past, they've lost
the public relations war. That's changed in recent years, said Margaret
Musgrave, vice president for government affairs at the Susan B. Anthony
"We are damaging their brand," said Musgrave.
is part of a coalition of activists, politicians, and Christian legal
groups that have used legislation and lawsuits to change Planned
Parenthood's reputation and cut its funding.
The Susan B. Anthony
List website boasts that laws cutting a total of $61.7 million in
funding for Planned Parenthood in have been passed in seven states,
including Tennessee. But courts have blocked most of the funding cuts.
foes have had mixed results on the national level. In 2011, the House
of Representatives approved the so-called Pence Amendment to cut funds
for Planned Parenthood. The measure failed in the Senate. Pence was
elected governor of Indiana in November and passed the bill on to Black.
said that last year the charity's abortion numbers and government
funding went up while its cancer screenings and contraceptive services
went down. Black argues that federal funds help Planned Parenthood keep
the lights on at its abortion clinics because some of the funds go for
paying for overhead.
"Those dollars are keeping those clinics open," she said.
bill is similar. She believes the government can't afford to fund
Planned Parenthood. She also said that giving taxpayer money to abortion
clinics is immoral.
"It's unconscionable that Planned Parenthood
is receiving record levels in funding while also performing record
levels of abortions," she said.
Teague said both Tennessee
politicians are wrong. Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee
dropped out of Tennessee's Title X in 2012, when legislators decided to
give the funds to government health clinics instead.
year it got $334,600 in family planning funds. None of the money went to
overhead, said Teague. Instead, the funds didn't even cover the cost of
the chapter's family planning program.
The chapter's tax returns
back up that claims. For fiscal year ending in June 2011, the group took
in $408,603 in revenue but spent $955,159.
"It's all there in black and white," he said. "They clearly don't understand how federal grants work."
Critics also accused Planned Parenthood of misusing government funds.
report from Alliance Defending Freedom, a Phoenix-based Christian legal
group, claims that that audits of Planned Parenthood programs in 10
states showed about $8 million in overbilling.
Whistleblower suits filed by former Planned Parent workers in California, Texas, and Iowa made similar claims.
Norton, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, is the lawyer in
the Houston and Iowa suits. The Iowa suit accused was dismissed in
district court, but he's optimistic about the Houston suit. That suit
accuses Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, based in Houston, of overbilling
the Texas Women's Health Program by $5.7 million, by charging for
medical services related to abortion.
Planned Parenthood has been
barred from that program by legislation. Another Texas lawsuit, filed by
the American Center for Law and Justice, goes to trial in Fort Worth
Norton, an abortion foe, said he hopes that politicians will crack down on Planned Parenthood.
"Everyone agrees that Planned Parenthood has to play by the same rules as anyone else," he said.
Robey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said the organization
works with government regulators and auditors to make sure it follows
the law. If there's a problem, the charity acts to fix it.
"Anytime an irregularity is discovered, it is taken seriously and handled swiftly and appropriately," she said.
Efforts could backfire
Ellen Chesler, a senior fellow at the New York City-based Roosevelt
Institute, said that efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood will
backfire. She pointed to a March 2012 poll from the Wall Street Journal
and NBC showing that 53 percent of Americans oppose cutting funds to
Chesler, a former Planned Parenthood board
member, said that the nonprofit's internal polls show 60 percent of
Americans support the organization.
"In most places, Planned Parenthood is a beloved organization," she said.
ties with Planned Parenthood proved costly last year for one major
charity. Criticisms from conservatives caused Susan G. Komen for the
Cure to drop a program that funds cancer screenings through Planned
After a public outcry, the group reversed course and founder Nancy Brinker had to step down as CEO.
said the Komen flap and efforts to cut taxpayer funding have led to
more public support. Donations to the group are up this year, he said.
So are volunteers.
"I think people have reached a tipping point," he said.
Events this week
This week the charity has asked supporters to wear pink buttons in
support of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court
decision allowing abortion. Many chapters, including Nashville, are also
hosting "Rock 'n' Roe" concerts as fundraisers. The local concert will
be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stone Fox and will feature Rosanne Cash
and Chelsea Crowell.
Nashville anti-abortion activists are also
commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe. On Saturday, they held their
annual "Rally for Life" on the steps of the state capital. Many will
also travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend for the national annual
March for Life.
Both sides point to polling as proof their side is winning.
Gallup poll from last year showed that 51 percent of Americans say they
are "pro-life" while only 41 percent call themselves "pro-choice."
That's good news for abortion foes.
But another Gallup poll showed
that 52 percent of American want abortion legal in most circumstances,
with another 25 percent wanting it legal in all circumstances. Only 20
percent want an outright ban.
Planned Parenthood recently launched
a website called Notinhershoes.org to address that polling. It features
video that describes abortion as too complex for the "pro-choice" and
"pro-life" labels. Abortion, it says, is a personal decision for a woman
- and politicians should steer clear.
"When it comes down to it, we just don't know a woman's specific situation," the voiceover says. "We are not in her shoes."
Labels don't fit
Teague repeated that message last week in an interview. He said the
pro-choice or pro-life labels don't fit the complexity of abortion.
"People can be genuinely concerned about the number of abortions," he said. "But they still want it to be safe and legal."
conflict over Planned Parenthood, like the fight over abortion, is
unlikely to end any time soon. That's because the nonprofit is a
linchpin abortion provider.
In 1982, according to the Guttmacher
Institute, there were more than 2,400 abortion providers in the United
States. By 2008, that number had dropped to just under 1,800.
the number of providers went down, the numbers at Planned Parenthood
went up. In 1980, the group performed 77,880 abortions, or about 5
percent of the 1.55 million abortions nationwide. In 2008, Planned
Parenthood performed 324,008 abortions, or 26.7 percent of abortions.
America's abortion chain," said Anna Franzonello, staff counsel with
Americans United for Life. "Planned Parenthood has done more than 5
million abortions since the 1970s. But almost a million of those are in
the last three years. They are becoming more and more abortion-centric."
Chesler said that Planned Parenthood does more abortions because many clinics have been closed down by abortion foes.
disingenuous, she said, for abortion foes to now complain that Planned
Parenthood does more abortions when abortion foes are partially to
She said the group plays a key role in giving women access to abortion.
"They do more abortions because no one else has the courage or the infrastructure to withstand the opposition," she said.
Black won't give up
Congressman Black said it is unlikely her bill will become law this
year or anytime soon. But she won't give up, in part because of her
experience in the Tennessee legislature. She spent years trying to cut
Title X funding for Planned Parenthood in Tennessee and failed several
times, but eventually that bill succeeded.
Black believes the same thing can happen on the national level.
"These dollars need to go to women in need," she said. "Abortion is not health care."