KENNEDY: The twisted tale of Planned Parenthood

Keywords Opinion / Taking Issue
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Sheila Suess KennedyEditing is an art.

When Indianapolis purchased Union Station, local reporters were sure the city had overpaid in some sort of sweetheart deal. My husband—then director of the Department of Metropolitan Development—had been frustrated by the coverage, but told me he’d finally had a good, substantive interview with a local TV station.

We flipped on the television. There he was on camera, but the (brief) report was a mix of voiceover and out-of-context snippets of what he’d said. The reporter had an agenda; film can be edited.

So let’s talk about agendas and Planned Parenthood.

Despite the propaganda, Planned Parenthood isn’t selling fetal tissue or profiting from its use in medical research. Some affiliates, in states where the practice is legal, are assisting medical researchers by making such tissue available when the patient has authorized it. They do receive reimbursement for the costs incurred in the process.

The availability of embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue for research has led to cures for many diseases and saved many lives. As with stem cells, the choice is between use of the tissue for life-saving research or destroying it. We can debate which option is truly “pro life.” Much the same moral calculus is involved when transplant surgeons harvest organs, from people who’ve just died, in order to prolong the lives of those with organ failures. (Most of us wouldn’t care to watch either procedure.)

With respect to Planned Parenthood here in Indiana, let me share some pesky facts:

• In the wake of these latest accusations, Gov. Pence ordered the state Health Department to investigate. It did, and found the organization’s health centers compliant. End of investigation.

• Indiana’s Planned Parenthood does not participate in tissue donation; it is illegal in this state.

• Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky sees 65,000 patients annually, the vast majority of whom are low-income women who would not otherwise get needed Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing and treatment, and birth control. A not-insignificant number are low-income men who come for testicular cancer exams. Abortion accounts for less than 7 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.

• State funding cuts forced closure of Scott County’s Planned Parenthood, leaving the county without a testing facility; the resulting HIV epidemic is costing the state far more than it “saved” by refusing to fund prevention and testing. Defunding of Planned Parenthood would lead to more such poor health outcomes, including an increase in teen pregnancies and more Indiana children living in poverty.

• There is no other health care provider offering the services, hours and coverage that Planned Parenthood offers through its 23 Indiana locations, and no other provider raises private funds to cover the cost of reproductive health services for those who cannot pay.

Genuinely pro-life people can oppose abortion and still support the other life-saving work done by Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, the organization has been a target for zealots ever since its founding. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what many of them really oppose is women’s autonomy—a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own reproductive decisions. Recent efforts to restrict access to birth control are consistent with that conclusion.

At the end of the day, there’s reality and there’s rhetoric. The reality is that women did not start getting abortions after Roe v. Wade. They just stopped dying from them.

We can reduce the number of abortions by providing women with reliable birth control, and we can reduce deaths from abortion by supporting high-quality clinics like those operated by Planned Parenthood.•


Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at She can be reached at Send comments on this column to

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