Commentary: The Media’s Abortion Blinders

Ross Douthat wrote an article this week claiming that the Komen Foundation was the real victim of the recent Komen vs. Planned Parenthood debacle

The basic gist of the issue was that the Komen Foundation pulled about $700,000 in funding from Planned Parenthood (PP) recently because, it claimed, Planned Parenthood was under investigation. This was peculiar because this is definitely not the first time PP was under investigation, and in this case it was from a Republican representative from Florida who wanted even further proof that PP was not using federal funds to perform abortions. 

Now, later in the week, due to massive outcry from the public, including a pledge from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of $250,000 to PP to make up their losses, the Komen Foundation backtracked and decided to give the grant back to PP. 

Mr. Douthat’s issue seems to be that the media representation of the Komen Foundation was unfair, especially given that American seem split pretty evenly on the issue of abortion, based on Gallup poll. He goes on to list “truths” about PP, and ends with his disgust at journalists for not paying enough attention to those facts in their reporting, and therefore demonizing Komen though much of the public probably agreed with their actions. 

Okay, now that we’re done with the summary, let me insert my opinion

If you askme whether I think there are more pro-choice or pro-life individuals in America, I’d hands down say there were more pro-lifers. Why? Because that’s what the media shows. In my experience, they tend to portray pro-choicers as anti-life, rather than what we actually are about…giving women a choice in their own reproduction. In fact, even respected, intelligent media personalities like Mr. Douthat tend to portray pro-choicers as individuals who have,

“…no moral qualms about using surgery or chemicals to put an end to a growing embryo or fetus…”

He attacks Planned Parenthood by putting forth facts that are meant to scare the average reader. Let’s analyze them:

1. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Completely true. PP is a national not-for-profit that strives to provide women’s health care in all ways to women of all socioeconomic backgrounds. That includes birth control, women’s health exams, breast exams, vaccinations, and yes, abortions. Because PP is so ubiquitous now and is a trusted name, women who otherwise would have been forced to either go without care or visit a less reputable source (i.e. back-alley abortions) now have a safe, alternative option. People frequently poke fun at the idea that women in America would go to back-alley abortionists, but it’s what used to happen before PP became a known, reliable presence. So yes, because of this, PP is most definitely the largest abortion provider. Not because it pushes abortions on women, not because it does not provide all the options and facts like Crisis Pregnancy Clinics, not because it revels in ending potential life, but because it is a trusted source for comprehensive women’s care. 

2. “By way of comparison, the organization also refers pregnant women for adoption. In 2010, this happened 841 times, against 329,445 abortions.”

Can’t argue with those numbers. It’s true, PP performed 300,000+ abortions, and only 841 women opted to choose adoption. The implication Mr. Douthat is making here though, is that in some way PP is pushing women towards abortion rather than adoption. After all, what else could a juxtaposition of those numbers mean? 

The fact of the matter is, Mr. Douthat does not want to see the numbers as women’s choice. These numbers indicate that PP provides options for its patients, gives them the information they need to make an informed decision, and some do decide to go through with their pregnancy and move forward with adoption. It is difficult to accept however, that many women choose to abort their pregnancies in light of the facts. So instead, Mr. Douthat subtly suggests that PP must be pressuring them. He does not consider the emotional and psychological pain a woman has to go through to carry a child to term and then give it up for adoption or even the social stigma, monetary strain, and consistent check-ups the woman will face as legitimate reasons for a woman to choose abortion. 

3. Planned Parenthood’s critics have estimated, plausibly, that between 30 and 40 percent of its health center revenue is from abortion.

The fact that Mr. Douthat gives credence to these numbers baffles me. In numerous fiscal reports, PP, a not for profit organization, has noted that less than 15% of its revenue comes from abortions, which make up only 3% of the services it provides. The rest of the services are cancer screening and prevention, contraception, and STI screening and treatment. Numerous social conservatives have inflated the number so greatly to make it appear that though PP has a financial incentive to push abortions on women. After all, why else would a woman choose abortion if it was not pushed on her? Either way, this point made me particularly sick that a NYTimes columnist, who just wrote a piece about media bias would get his numbers from an article by Charlotte Allen, a know conservative with a strong dislike for atheists, who wrote a piece about rape that essentially victim-blamed, and has a passionate hatred for Planned Parenthood. Yeah, she’s not biased at all. 

4. And finally, two quotes together that truly made my blood boil,

Although mammograms, it should be noted, are not necessarily among them: the group usually provides referrals, but not the mammogram itself, which is one of the reasons Komen’s founder had cited for discontinuing the grant”


“And if you think abortion rights are more important to female health and flourishing than the nearly $2 billion the pink ribbon has raised for breast cancer research, Komen deserved your scorn and Planned Parenthood deserves your donations.”

Let’s address the mammogram issue first. Over the past decade, the effectiveness of mammograms in preventing deaths from breast cancer has been called into question, with data suggesting it is  not as effective as we once thought. In light of this, many Planned Parenthood facilities have not purchased a mammogram machine and instead perform breast exams during their check-ups. When something is found to be problematic, they refer their patient to a doctor that can adequately look into it. I see no problem with this, but it sickens me that one would suggest that PP is somehow doing it’s patients a disservice by not providing them a treatment that is no longer accepted as effective. Douthat’s implication that PP is not truly providing comprehensive women’s health services ties directly into my problem with the next quote…he boils all of Planned Parenthood’s services down to their abortion services.

Yes, Komen raises billions for cancer research, which is completely valuable. But as someone put it, pink ribbons and pink spatulas don’t provide care for people, health care providers do, like those at Planned Parenthood. The reality is that without PP, millions of low-income women would be left in the lurch, unable to take control of their own sexual and body health because they don’t have easy access to the care. Millions would be without sexual health exams, STI screening, pre-natal care, and yes, birth counseling. For Mr. Douthat to sum up Planned Parenthood as Planned Abortion-hood is inexcusable and disgusting.

So, this is a really long post that took much longer than my other posts usually take to write, but it’s because I was shocked at the hypocrisy and idiocy of the article. But I’m not sure what else I expected from Mr. Douthat whose many articles make it clear that he is not fully in touch with reality. 

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