By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research
Anyone expecting Planned Parenthood to simply pack up and close shop when Roe fell probably just hasn’t been following the nation’s largest, richest abortion chain for very long. They closed a clinic or two before the June 24th Dobbs decision hit and have suspended abortion operations in a few states since. But the abortion giant’s long term goals and plans have not changed – they are as obsessed as ever with seeing abortion on demand supported and funded by the taxpayer in all fifty state.
If anything, flush with cash from their latest “sky is falling” fundraising campaign, they are promoting their industry and defending its deadly products with an intensity and aggression perhaps not seen before.
Dobbs and its overturn of Roe v. Wade did in fact “rock their world”; it wasn’t that they didn’t expect it or that the court did anything more than return the abortion issue to the states. But for the first time in 49 years, Planned Parenthood didn’t have the Supreme Court in their back pocket backing an imaginary “right to abortion” for any and all reasons and whatever ghastly method of human extermination that they or their industry allies dreamed up.
What they’ve done since Dobbs, however, has not been rash or reactionary. It has been strategic, carrying out a carefully crafted plan, following a playbook that has been around a long time.
Taking Their Business Elsewhere
Though various Planned Parenthood affiliates made it a point to inform the public that they were “still open” after the Dobbs decision and media allies “factchecked” and denied that there had been any closures in the aftermath (“No Planned Parenthood clinics have closed since the abortion ruling,” Politifact, 7/5/22), a more careful reading of the news shows the organization has had to make some significant adjustments.
A few Planned Parenthood clinics closed in Idaho, Vermont, and New Hampshire after the Dobbs leak but before the actual ruling, technically validating the Factcheckers’ claims. But this is far from the whole story.*
To fully understand and appreciate the significance of these moves, however, one needs to consider them in the context of Planned Parenthood’s long term goals and objectives.
The announced closure of Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Boise, announced June 11, 2022, before Dobbs was officially determined, is most illustrative. Though Idaho has (for now) two other Planned Parenthood locations offering abortion, Boise had clearly been the center of the state’s abortion activity, with women from the Boise area accounting for the vast majority of the state’s 1,680 abortions in 2020.
Only a few months before the Boise closure, Planned Parenthood announced that was planning to lease space for an abortion clinic in Ontario, Oregon a small town of less than 12,000 just across the border in that state’s “high dessert.” Look at a map and you’ll see that there is little else for miles around, except for Boise, which is less than an hour’s drive away.
Obviously, the aim is to transfer patients from Idaho, where abortion is expected to be banned, to Oregon, one of those states which aims to be an “abortion sanctuary” (KTVB7, 7/11/22, Willamette Week, 7/14/22).
Though it sounds like there will be some effort to keep the other two Planned Parenthood locations open in Idaho even if abortion is banned in the state, it is telling that the organization did not seem to feel there would be enough business to sustain the Boise location without a steady stream of abortion patients.
Strategic Relocation and Reallocation of Resources
While it is easy to get lost in the details of local battles of various Planned Parenthood affiliates over this or that state abortion policy, the bigger picture reveals a more ominous narrative.
It is part of a strategy outlined by Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson in a CNBC interview before the Dobbs decision broke (6/922)
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision, McGill Johnson says Planned Parenthood is focused on boosting access to abortion in states where the procedure is expected to remain legal, especially states like Colorado and Illinois, which share borders with states ready to immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
That includes increasing staff and funding at centers in these states and bolstering their patient navigation system, which connects people with Planned Parenthood representatives that can answer questions about their services, costs and schedule out-of-state procedures.
McGill Johnson adds that Planned Parenthood is also expanding the availability of certain services that will become “more critical” if abortion becomes more restricted in the U.S., such as providing birth control, emergency contraception and mental health counseling.
“We want to ensure that patients get the care that they need, even in states where abortion is banned or severely restricted,” she says.
Planned Parenthood is clearly not giving up on the idea of performing abortion, even for women in states where the procedure is banned. What the organization means to do is to beef up abortion operations in states where it remains legal and to utilize staff in those states where the unborn are protected to function as travel agents getting women to abortion dedicated or high volume mega-clinics. (Texas, which limited abortion before Dobbs, seems to have functioned as some sort of model for Planned Parenthood. See Mother Jones, “The Texas Abortion Ban Has Turned Clinics Into Travel Agencies,” 6/9/22.)
Crossing State Borders
There is evidence that this plan is already in operation even beyond the Idaho and Oregon case mentioned earlier.
With Missouri clinics suspending abortion services, patients are being directed to large Planned Parenthood centers in Overland Park, Kansas and Fairview Heights, Illinois. Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Mississippi told patients in the western half of Tennessee they could go travel to clinics in Illinois while those in the eastern half could access abortion services in Virginia, North Carolina, or Florida.
Even before Roe fell, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said its Denver clinics were seeing an influx of patients from Texas from its earlier abortion limitations. A spokesperson for the group told the Las Vegas Review Journal that she expected to see abortion volumes increase by 80% – or 10,000 patients – at the group’s Southern Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado clinics if and when clinics abortion bans went into place in Arizona, Idaho, and Utah.
Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles announced that they were hiring staff and building three new clinics to handle the expected influx of new patients after the anticipated fall of Roe. Planned Parenthood of New York of the Hudson and Peconic had said it was planning for an influx of abortion patients if Roe fell.
Though neither of these last two affiliates seems to be particularly close to border states that are expected to ban abortion, they are both close to major national airports.
Navigating and Facilitating Abortion
Planned Parenthood’s “patient navigators” do more than simply tell a woman that abortion is not available in their home state. They find out how far along she is in the pregnancy and connect her to clinics in other states that have opening in the schedule (i.e., doctors or staff available to perform the abortion) and can handle her gestation. The farther along she is, the fewer clinics there are equipped or staffed to deal with that abortion of a baby that age or size.
If she needs financial help for the abortion, the travel expenses, the hotel stay, these “navigators” can connect her with private abortion funds (or presumably help her access benefits if the company she works for covers abortion travel) that have been set aside for such occasions. What is remarkable, of course, is not simply that Planned Parenthood does this, but that they now employ people specifically for this task (Refinery29, 4/18/22, Elle, 6/30/22).
Planned Parenthood has talked elsewhere about beefing up its telemedicine program. But it is rather coy about saying what this means about the group’s offering of telemedical abortion with home delivery of abortion pills, something the U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) recently approved. It is a point of legal contention between the Biden administration and states which have banned mail order abortions as to whether states have the authority to override an assertion by a federal agency that these drugs are safe to mail and use.
For our purposes, the relevant point is that Planned Parenthood is set up to be a major virtual prescriber and deliverer of abortion pills across the United States if courts rule in favor of the administration and the FDA.
Taking the Battle to State Courts
Even with several previous abortion bans on the books and new abortion limits in multiple states scheduled to take effect as soon as Roe was overturned, Planned Parenthood has been able, in many cases, to delay their implementation by sending its lawyers to challenge these laws by appealing to sympathetic judges in the state courts.
In the days that immediately followed the Dobbs decision, several individual Planned Parenthood affiliates file lawsuits to stop various state “trigger laws” – abortion bans that were scheduled to take effect when Roe fell – and other more recent abortion limitations.
On July 5th, Planned Parenthood’s national office announced legal efforts to head off abortion bans in Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. They were able to get temporary restraining orders keeping pro-life protections from being enforced in five of those states – Utah, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas.
Some of these were extensions or reassertions of arguments made before. Idaho faced three separate legal challenges to its abortion legislation. States with bans left off this latest list may have been covered by earlier suits; Planned Parenthood already had lawsuits in place against abortion limits in Alabama, South Dakota and Missouri
Within weeks, challenges were filed against protective legislation in South Carolina and Georgia state courts.
Most of these suits asserted that the bans or limits violated “right to privacy,” equal protection, or due process clauses in that state’s constitution.
These appeals have failed at the federal level, but the outcome could be different in the state courts. While arguments in all these state lawsuits are similar and familiar, each case and each state court and constitution is different, so predicting final outcomes could be difficult.
The Same Old Political Playbook
Of course, all this strategic maneuvering, this redeployment of staff and resources, this continuation of the challenge with state courts, this obsession with being an abortion delivery system for the post-Roe era hasn’t kept Planned Parenthood’s from its usual flexing of political muscle and money.
Though the group’s last fiscal report from 2020 put revenues at a hefty $1.6 billion, Planned Parenthood isn’t beyond using the Supreme Court’s decision to raise money. Pull up the Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA) or Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF – one of the organization’s political PACs) and what the first thing you see? An appeal for donations to help Planned Parenthood “do everything we can to protect abortion access.”
The appeal continues: “Planned Parenthood is facing some of the toughest challenges to health care delivery we’ve ever seen. Abortion access is on the line.” Though PPAF, the political action committee cannot say so, PPFA, officially a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, makes sure that the donor knows that gifts to them are tax-deductible.
In addition to endorsements made in state primaries, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Emily’s List in May announced plans to spend $150 million on 2022 midterm elections.
The group’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” campaign not only urges people to donate, but also tells them ways to help promote the cause. In addition to attending local protests, the “Bans Off Our Bodies” website suggest giving to abortion funds (to pay for women to travel for abortions), to post to social media, to “help pay legal costs to support the legal defense of people who are criminalized for their abortions.”
They suggest women write or video their abortion stories. “Corporate Engagement Teams” share what individual companies, business leaders can do to help advance the cause. A “recess guide” suggests “bird-dogging” political candidates, following them around at rallies, town halls, speeches, getting them to state, to explain their positions on abortion, hoping to catch and record them making some ill advised remarks or an embarrassing gaffe
The organization was also one of the biggest spenders against the proposed amendment to the Kansas constitutional amendment that would have made clear that there was no state right to an abortion. Planned Parenthood spent nearly $1.5 million to defeat the amendment, accounting for close to 20% of the money raised to fight the amendment. That amendment, which only a couple of weeks earlier appeared to be winning (co/efficient poll, 7/18/22), failed by a 59% to 41% margin after a barrage of negative advertising and misinformation pushed by opponents
No Plans to Stop Promoting or Performing Abortion
Anyone who has been paying attention can readily see that Planned Parenthood has no intention of abandoning its lucrative abortion business – far from it.
While shutting down abortion operations in a few states, they are generally just shifting staff and resources to other states, while working either to bring back abortions to states where bans are in place or to send those women seeking abortion to clinics in other states.
They are continuing to make money off abortion and using the Supreme Court decision to raise funds for abortion travel and the group’s political activities.
Even if you are one of the fortunate people who has seen Planned Parenthood stop performing abortion in your state or your community, don’t relax. This organization, which has already taken millions of lives and made hundreds of millions of dollars, is still determined to do everything they can to make sure women in all fifty states can continue to get abortions at Planned Parenthood.
* Clinics have actually been closing at Planned Parenthood for years, but this is deceiving. For example, the group listed 872 clinics in 2010, but just 614 in 2020. However more of these were offering abortion in 2020 than 2010, and the number of clinics advertising abortions at 24 weeks or more leaped from three to 20! The more recent closings may have been related in some way to the imminent court ruling on Roe, but probably were more closely connected to the broader, long term efforts of Planned Parenthood to consolidate, modernize, and ultimately expand their abortion operations.] Several affiliates did announce that they were suspending or stopping abortion services due to the Dobbs ruling and “trigger laws” that took effect banning or significantly limiting the procedure in their states (e.g., Texas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Arizona).
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