The Neon Elephant in the Room: What the Media and Pundit Class Keep Missing About the “Abortion” Debate

Use quotes to search for exact phrases. Use AND/OR/NOT between keywords or phrases for more precise search results.

Commentary Religion

The Neon Elephant in the Room: What the Media and Pundit Class Keep Missing About the “Abortion” Debate

Jodi Jacobson

What are the two most important points the media, pundit class, and progressive policymakers keep missing about the "abortion" debate? Answer: It's not about abortion and it's not about "life."

Making assumptions based on available evidence–whether based on sensory or scientific data–is a fundamental human trait and fundamental aspect of policy debates.  In public policy, evidence is debated and analyzed ostensibly for the purpose of reaching informed conclusions.  But what happens when the evidence changes? Ostensibly, the analysis and conclusions drawn also change to accommodate the obvious.

Not so in the “abortion debate.”  When it comes to debates about “abortion” and “pro-life politics,” both the media and the pundit class are persistently missing the huge neon-lighted elephant in the room. Current efforts by the far right to undermine health care for the poor are neither about “abortion” as commonly understood nor about “life.”  Instead, they are part of longer-term broader efforts to undermine women’s rights across the board, deny basic health care to the poor and middle class, increase the available labor force, demolish the social safety net, and keep wages down and corporate profits on the rise.  The abortion debate so craftily positioned and manipulated by the far right is but one aspect–albeit the one most likely to be played out on a field of emotions–and one used to deflect attention to the much broader and deeper agenda of the far right.

An editorial in today’s New York Times, for example, makes this increasingly common mistake in an otherwise on-target argument: It assumes that recent efforts by Indiana and other states to de-fund Planned Parenthood are “about abortion.”

The editorial states that Planned Parenthood is a favorite target of the far right “because a small percentage of its work involves providing abortion care even though no government money is used for that purpose.”  It then goes on to note:

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

Follow Rewire News Group on Twitter to stay on top of every breaking moment.


Governor Daniels and Republican lawmakers, by depriving Planned Parenthood of about $3 million in government funds, would punish thousands of low-income women on Medicaid, who stand to lose access to affordable contraception, life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. Making it harder for women to obtain birth control is certainly a poor strategy for reducing the number of abortions.

This is all true but for one thing: It assumes that the goal is to “reduce the number of abortions.”  That is only partly true because as we all know, if “reducing the number of abortions” were the goal, money would be flooding from states into Planned Parenthood and other family planning programs to dramatically increase access to contraception, to address rape and violence, and to ensure that everyone had access to basic sexual health education. If reducing abortions were the goal, then economic and social supports especially for parents in the poor and the middle class would be a major social priority.  And if reducing abortions were the real goal, as the editorial assumes, funding would still be flowing for efforts to provide early detection of cervical and breast cancer for poor women, as Planned Parenthood does, or to increase access to prevention, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, which Planned Parenthood also does.

But as an editorial in the Indianapolis Star similarly reveals, many in the media still are not seeing that elephant.  “It’s not as if lawmakers weren’t warned” about the cut-off of federal Medicaid funding to Indiana because of its de-funding of Planned Parenthood, the editorial states.

Indiana’s secretary of the Family and Social Services Administration, Michael Gargano, said well before the law was passed that, in his view, it might violate federal rules, thus jeopardizing $4 million the state receives each year in Medicaid funds dedicated to family planning. Legislators, and the governor, barreled through that yellow light without slowing down.

And now there’s a mess that will be sorted out in the courts at taxpayers’ expense.

But the fact is that Indiana doesn’t care about Medicaid funding or Medicaid patients, just as Paul Ryan doesn’t care about whether seniors beyond those now enrolled (who ostensibly would vote in the majority for Republicans) have access to affordable health care.

We all now know–even if we don’t admit it–that the far right is made up of three basic extremist groups: fundamentalist religious groups seeking to create a theocracy in America (and c’mon folks, they are less and less shy about stating this); fundamentalist “free marketers” who feel only corporations have rights; and fundamentalist pseudo-libertarians. These groups–whether we want to admit it openly or not–share a common belief in the supremacy of men over women, of corporations over democratic government and people, of the rich over the poor, and of whites over everyone else.

Together, these groups hate Planned Parenthood for the same reason they hated Acorn (notwithstanding problems in the organization, it was the mission of helping register disenfranchised voters that so infuriated the right, as evidenced by current efforts to undermine voting rights at the state level). Extremists hate Planned Parenthood for the same reason they hate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, hate the minimum wage and labor and environmental regulations, and hate programs like Title X and Title IX. All of these–and I name only a few–are aimed at providing basic equity in American society.  So they hate Planned Parenthood because it provides basic primary health care–including but not limited to reproductive health care–to people who might not otherwise have it. Abortion is merely the emotional foil used by the far right to rally the extreme religious minority that votes in the Republican primaries and to confuse other voters into thinking they’re all about “morality” and “life,” fiscal austerity and freedom, and efficiency.

If, for example, the issue were about abortion, and if, for example, the case of Indiana, as the Times editorial asserts “could help deter other states — including North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Tennessee — from moving forward with similar measures to restrict payments to Planned Parenthood,” we wouldn’t see concurrent efforts by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin to demolish BadgerCare, starting with denying men access to services under the program, which serves low-income individuals in the state.  According to the Huffington Post:

Abortion rights advocates in Wisconsin are convinced that Walker and the GOP lawmakers are just looking for underhanded, politically acceptable ways to change the BadgerCare program so significantly that the U.S. government is forced to cut all federal family planning funding to the state.

It’s clear far right governors and legislators know what they are doing and are acting according to plan, to de-fund all health care for low-income people, starting with the kind of health care they can most easily stigmatize and sensationalize, irrespective of how important such care is to the basic health and well-being of a functioning society.

You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is. The reality is that these efforts are part of a larger strategy to de-fund and dismantle government supports at every level.

As long as the media and pundits consistently get hoodwinked by the far right, anti-choice, anti-woman crowd into a “repeat-after-me” script about “babeez” and “life,” we run the risk of being distracted by the real agenda, which includes but goes far beyond attacks on Planned Parenthood.