Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Planned Parenthood enjoys a good reputation. Many Americans think it performs necessary services — screening for sexually transmitted diseases, forestalling teen pregnancy and controlling family size.

But there are some disturbing realities behind the scene. For example, Planned Parenthood’s confidentiality principles (it promises not to tell anyone of a teenager’s problems) conflict with laws in every state that require health care workers to report suspected sexual abuse or statutory rape to law enforcers. Not surprisingly, investigators are finding a national pattern of failure to report sex crimes against underage teens.

In 2002 Life Dynamics, a pro-life group based in Texas, called 800 abortion clinics around the country, many of them run by Planned Parenthood. The caller would say she was a 13-year-old girl whose boyfriend was 22, and she needed an abortion. Ninety-one percent of the clinics told the caller they would give her an abortion, but warned her not to reveal her boyfriend’s age.

Americans may be surprised to learn that Planned Parenthood has plenty of money, and taxpayers are contributing a large part of it. In 2005-06 it took in nearly $1 billion and boasted a surplus of $55 million. More than one-third of its income — $305 million — came from government subsidies. Its president receives an annual compensation of almost $1 million.

In a time when abortions nationwide are declining, Planned Parenthood is performing more abortions than ever — 264,943 in 2005-06. These abortions bring in at least a third of its $345 million in clinic income.

Because Planned Parenthood is America’s biggest chain of abortion clinics, it is unsettling to learn that of the six American women who have died after taking the abortion pill RU-486, four got the pill from a Planned Parenthood clinic. Yet Planned Parenthood refuses to comply with FDA guidelines, permitting women to take the drug at home rather than at a clinic as the FDA advises.

There are also disturbing racial disparities. National numbers from the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that the overwhelming majority of abortion clinics are located in metropolitan areas, and some analysts have placed the percentage in minority neighborhoods at greater than 75 percent. Data from the CDC show that while white women get the majority of abortions (56 percent), black women, at only 13 percent of the population, are getting roughly 36 percent of the abortions. On average, 432,000 black babies are aborted annually.

According to sociologist Anne Hendershott, black women are more likely than whites to get late-term abortions, which are riskier. Perhaps abortion is more common in minority communities because, similar to alcohol and tobacco, it is more aggressively marketed there.

It is well known that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, aligned herself with the eugenicists concerned with eliminating undesirables from the population. Moreover, Sanger received and accepted an invitation to address a Ku Klux Klan chapter and gave a speech that led to additional Klan invitations. Although we do not know what she said, we do know that recently questions have been raised about racism at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Documented in a widely-circulated recording and transcript, a UCLA student researcher for a pro-life magazine hired a professional actor in February 2008 to call Planned Parenthood clinics around the country, offering donations to “lower the number of black people” by targeting black babies for abortion. She found Planned Parenthood clinics in seven states that agreed to take the monies. Not one Planned Parenthood employee objected to the caller’s racist remarks or purposes.

Many taxpayers may not be comfortable with the ways that Planned Parenthood has been active in the political arena. Partial-birth abortion strikes many as a particularly hideous way to kill a baby, yet Planned Parenthood lobbied againsta ban on that practice. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act would have defined a viable fetus surviving the abortion process as a person entitled to medical assistance. Nurses have testified that babies who survive a botched abortion are sometimes of the same size and condition of those successfully treated in neonatal units across the country. Typically, they are left to die. Nurses have reported that some manage to survive for hours. Planned Parenthood lobbied against this bill as well.

One must wonder, then, whether taxpayers should continue to support an organization that is flush with money, has beenwilling to skirt or ignore laws intended to protect the people it claims to serve and may be targeting minorities with a practice many Americans believe immoral.

Gerald R. McDermott is a professor of religion at Roanoke College. Carol M. Swain is a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

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