What’s Good for Planned Parenthood is Good for Religion

by Brendan Beery

Donald Trump, of all people, is the only Republican who seems to understand the difference between funding Planned Parenthood (PP) generally and funding PP’s abortion services. He recently said that PP does some good things that are worthy of federal support – like provide health services for women. Only PP’s abortion services, Trump said, should be defunded.

There’s only one problem with that argument: the federal government defunded all abortion services many years ago. An appropriations rider called the Hyde Amendment has been in effect since 1976. Under federal law, no government money has gone to provide abortion services (except in cases of rape, incest, or a medical emergency involving the mother) for decades. So Trump’s position is not really to defund PP’s abortion services, but rather not to re-fund those services. He’s the status-quo candidate.

In this regard, Trump is at odds with his more extreme Republican competitors, all of whom advocate defunding PP altogether – even its programs providing cancer screening, mammograms, contraceptives, etc.

Republicans’ argument is that money is fungible (it all blends together in a mass where no part is distinguishable from any other). The thinking is that even if the federal government gives PP money for cervical cancer screening, that frees up PP’s money for other uses – like providing abortion services.

There’s something to this argument. Namely, it’s true. But can we ask the conservatives who make this argument for a little intellectual consistency? Probably not.

Under the theory that all money is fungible, the federal government would have to immediately stop providing any assistance to any religious organization for any purpose. Under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the government is not permitted to promote religion or religious belief. Yet government money goes to religious organizations all the time; there’s an entire office (the Office of Faith Based Initiatives) housed in the West Wing of the White House to tell religious organizations where to find federal money.

The idea here is that religious organizations do provide some useful services – like housing and food for the poor, substance-abuse counseling, and medical assistance. When it comes to those useful programs, federal money should be available just like it’s available to secular organizations that provide the same kinds of services.

But if Republicans are right that no money should be given to an organization that can spend money on both favored and disfavored conduct, these religious programs must be defunded. After all, when the feds give Catholic schools all their science and math books for free, they free up that Catholic money for expenditure on Bibles and religion teachers.

What’s good for PP …

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