Monday, August 24, 2015

The Economic Ramifications of Defunding Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has been making the news again. First, it had to do with the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress where Planned Parenthood officials are nonchalantly talking about selling fetal parts for medical research. The videos were heavily edited, at least in part because the unedited versions amounted to twelve hours, but they brought up some ethical quandaries. The videos were made to depict Planned Parenthood callously talk about the negotiating price of fetal body parts as if they were mere commodities, and at the very least, it was successful in the sense that it merited attention. This, of course, resulted in a political predicament putting Planned Parenthood's funding under greater scrutiny. The Senate made a failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, and even some states have made the move to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood. Per its 2013-2014 annual budget, $528.4 million of its $1,303.4 million budget, or 40.5 percent of its budget, comes from government funding. Removing some or all of this government funding would surely curtail Planned Parenthood operations. Although Roe v. Wade is still law of the land, it does still bring up questions of whether the government should be funding such activities.

Proponents of Planned Parenthood argue that we shouldn't go after Planned Parenthood because their primary directive is to provide health care services. According to Planned Parenthood, 3 percent of services provided are abortion services. Even assuming that the "3 percent statistic" is true, it is still misleading because it assumes that all services are created equal. Providing a pap smear, pregnancy test or condom are all considered Planned Parenthood services. 3 percent of abortion services amount to 327,653 abortions. With 2,700,000 Planned Parenthood customers that came into Planned Parenthood that year, that would mean that 12 percent of Planned Parenthood patients received abortions.

By the letter of the law, Planned Parenthood cannot receive federal funding for purposes of abortions. Planned Parenthood receives 13 percent of Title X funding, which amounts to $37.23 million. While government funding technically be spent on abortions, money is fungible, which is to say that government spending on other services frees up other money to be spent on abortions. The applicable economic term is the crowding out effect. While there are no studies specifically about Planned Parenthood and the crowding out effect, this phenomenon generally takes place in the health care industry (see hereherehere, and here), as well as for religious charities.

This does not even account for the percent of Planned Parenthood funding that go towards abortion services because Planned Parenthood does not provide that information. While they are not required to do so, providing such transparency would help with a clearer picture of Planned Parenthood operations. If we wanted to get an estimate of how much Planned Parenthood makes on abortions, we could. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which is a semi-autonomous policy institute of Planned Parenthood, a first-trimster abortion cost $480 and an abortion after 10 weeks cost $504 in 2011-2012. Even if we pick the lower figure of $480 and don't adjust for inflation, that would put the figure at $157,273,440. This conservative estimate would mean that 12 percent of its total budget comes from abortion expenditures. However, government money cannot be used on abortions, so we cannot consider that part of the equation. That would boost the percent of Planned Parenthood's abortion-based revenue to 20 percent of total revenue. If we remove private donations and contributions from the equation, that would mean that 40 percent of private revenue sales originate from abortion. Based off of these calculations, we can surmise the prevalence of the crowding-out effect as a result of government funding, as well as the prevalence of abortion services to Planned Parenthood operations.

As interesting as it is to put some of these data in context, it still doesn't answer a question: What would happen if the government completely stopped funding Planned Parenthood this very second? Does this mean that removing its government funding would be the end of women's health services as we know it? The short answer is "no." The longer answer is that it would make it without government funding. For one, it derives 30 percent of its revenue from private donations and contributions. Also, other health service facilities have historically been able to function without the constant subsidization. The argument assumes that Planned Parenthood could not function without government funding. What is more is that proponents present the argument as if there would be no more abortions or women's health care if Planned Parenthood lost this funding.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 51 percent of pregnancies (3.4 million pregnancies) are unwanted, and 40 percent of those pregnancies are terminated by abortions. Doing the math, that would mean that 1.36 million pregnancies are terminated by abortion. With Planned Parenthood only performing 327,653 abortions, that means that over a million abortions, or 76 percent of abortions, are provided by clinics that are not Planned Parenthood affiliates.

If you want to get an abortion or health care services, you can go almost anywhere. The United States has over 1,100 Federally Qualified Health Centers. In total, the country has over 9,000 health centers, which outnumbers the 669 Planned Parenthood clinics. While Planned Parenthood likes to toot its own horn as a champion in reproductive rights, we need to remember something. Planned Parenthood is like any other business: it wants to preserve, and even augment, its market share and $1.4 billion in net assets. Removing government funding would threaten Planned Parenthood's self-preservation, plain and simple. If we were to remove government funding of Planned Parenthood right now, not only would Planned Parenthood have to find ways to adjust to the funding alteration, but there would still be plenty of other options for women looking for these services. Anything else would be a scare tactic through emotional arguments and misleading statistics.

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