In the ongoing rancor surrounding federal funding of Planned Parenthood, misinformation has a starring role. There have been, of course, predictable gusts of hot air from pundits like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted last month that "nobody's life is affected by Planned Parenthood," and Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy of "Fox & Friends," who suggested on April 9 that Planned Parenthood's non-abortion-related services were redundant because you can get your blood pressure checked and get a pap smear or a breast exam at Walgreen's. (Blood pressure, yes; the rest, uh-uh.)
Then there are those who deep down must surely know better but who seem to think they have with a right to waive the facts. When Republican Sen. Jon Kyl wrongly proclaimed on the Senate floor recently that abortions constitute "well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does," his office responded to the blowback by saying that "his remark was not intended to be a factual statement."
Abortion represents only 3% of Planned Parenthood's services. Though that statistic is consistently corroborated by Title X audits, as well as independent researchers, it does little to quell the notion that Planned Parenthood is in the "abortion business" or perhaps devoted to eliminating human reproduction altogether. Mike Huckabee, on "Fox & Friends," referred to the organization as "Planned Barrenhood."
The most amusing distortion came from Rep. Michele Bachmann, who, in February, spoke of Planned Parenthood's "express centers" in suburban shopping areas as "places where women are doing their grocery shopping, picking up Starbucks, living their daily lives and stopping off for an abortion."
Stopping off for an abortion! Who knew it could be so easy? It so happens there's a Planned Parenthood Express in my neighborhood, tucked away in a mini-mall. I can see why Bachmann is worried, because last Sunday, between dropping off dry cleaning and hitting a Pilates class, I drove past the place and suddenly got the idea to have an abortion. I wasn't pregnant or anything, but the opportunity seemed too convenient to pass up.
It turned out that not only was the office closed (weekend hours are limited), it doesn't offer abortions. "We don't provide any surgical services," Sara Howard, vice president of public affairs and communication for Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, told me, explaining what goes on at the"basics" centers. "People are coming in for STD screenings and birth control. We do a lot of pregnancy tests. We give out free condoms."
Howard noted that of the 21 Planned Parenthood health centers in L.A. County, only eight provide abortion services.
Most studies show that a majority of Americans have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood and support federal funding for it. But the vehement, almost obsessive opposition of those who don't makes you wonder if there's something in play that goes deeper than even the abortion issue. If Planned Parenthood stopped doing abortions altogether and stuck with the remaining 97% of its services, would opponents still bristle at the mere mention of the place?
Maybe not if the name were changed to something like "Don't Get Pregnant!" or "STDs No More!" Here's my theory: When it comes to parenthood, the whole notion of planning can be so overwhelming that it feels better to leave it to fate.
Sure, we know that the respectable, socially responsible thing to do is to think hard about when and how many children to have and to take the necessary steps — abstinence or birth control — to avoid producing a child that cannot be properly cared for. But as any parent will tell you, there is no "perfect" time to have a baby. It's always going to be a showstopper.
And I suspect that's why a lot of people, pro-life and pro-choice alike, like to think of parenthood as something that was foisted upon them rather than actively pursued.
To plan your parenthood implies heightened accountability. It means you've made a deliberate choice, that you're well-prepared, that you're absolutely, positively capable of doing an exemplary job.
That's a lot to bear. No wonder some people would rather head to Walgreen's. Though if anyone there offers you a breast exam, call the police.