Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

The Ephemera Around It

with 6 comments

So what gets to me about the “outrage” surrounding Indiana Planned Parenthood’s announcement that it will offer gift cards for its services is how manufactured it all is.

I don’t believe it one bit. Unless all the folks wringing their keyboards about it are way stupider than I think they are, they’ve got to realize that Planned Parenthood offering gift certificates is going to do absolutely nothing to increase the rate of abortion (which they ostensibly care about lowering). As I mentioned in my post on Ladyblog Tuesday, only about 3-5 percent of PP services are abortion-related anyway; the majority are actually aimed at preventing abortion (by preventing unwanted pregnancies), with the rest devoted to basic women’s health services (mammograms, pap smears, etc.). If anyone is actually going to purchase and give out Planned Parenthood gift cards, it will probably be, say, women’s shelters and charitable organizations that want to help low-income women obtain contraception, STD testing, or basic gynecological care.

To which I was told: silly girl! All this feel-good talk about contraception and reproductive health care is just a front for Planned Parenthood’s black-baby-killing, statutory-rape-promoting, ABORTION ALL THE TIME agenda. Did you miss the dead fetuses on the PP gift card packaging? These are licenses to kill, lady! [in so many words, or course]

Now I get that people have an irrational hatred of Planned Parenthood (not saying I get why, per se, just that I get that it’s there). But anyone who thinks about if for 14 seconds would have to see how unlikely it is that anyone is going to be using these cards to procure abortions. First—if someone were going to pay for someone else to obtain an abortion, why would they bother with the gift card? Why not just cut the patient, or Planned Parenthood, a check?

But furthermore—who cares how they pay? If Person A is paying for Person B’s abortion regardless, is it somehow worse if Person A gives Person B a gift card instead of forking over cash? The net increase in abortions is still zero. Or are they worried about a rash of perfectly happily-pregnant women receiving Planned Parenthood gift cards (perhaps from nefarious PP staffers themselves) and deciding, oh, what the hell, I was going to carry this pregnancy to term, but I’ve got this gift card now and I already had my yearly gyno visit so I might as well get an abortion? I mean, seriously, what is the real fear here?

Like I said, I suspect there is none. I suspect that the people penning op-eds for the Los Angeles Times and Washington Times and writing most of these blog posts and so on have to realize all of the above blatantly obvious things. They have to realize the option of PP gift cards will do nothing to increase abortions in the state, and could actually do a bit to prevent them. But they also know that it’s a really easy news item to hook some sensationalism and hysteria on.

Does it matter? Freddie said something in the comments that I found interesting [emphasis mine]:

… most of you … keep posting stuff about abortion, acting as if people have abortion thrown in their face again and again, somehow, they’ll say “Oh! Let’s get rid of abortion.” It seems like every post is “can you believe this about abortion?” But it’s all just circular reasoning. You begin from the position that abortion is immoral, and seem to think that talking about the various ephemera around it will convince people that it’s wrong. But most people don’t begin from that assumption, and while most Americans favor some restrictions on abortion, a large majority believes in a right to obtain an abortion within the first two trimesters.

This case is kind of the epitome of The Ephemera Around It. This is really a non-issue (and I sometimes feel silly for even giving however many words I’ve just given to things like this). I guess I’m less confident than Freddie about the effects of these sorts of manufactured controversies. This story is getting play in major newspapers and news sites. Some, like the LA Times one, pretty much scream Gift Cards for Abortions!, and only explain that that’s not exactly the case a few paragraphs in. The casual reader might get to the first paragraph—Planned Parenthood of Indiana offers gift cards for abortions—and stop reading, thinking they’ve gotten the gist. The casual reader might have form a casually negative opinion of the organization. The casual reader might be that much more likely to believe it next time they hear Planned Parenthood is a white supremacist organization, or feel that much less sympathetic when a clinic gets bombed, and so on and so forth … The net increase or decrease in abortions remains unchanged, but what about the net increase in (unfounded) public ill-will?


Written by Elizabeth

December 4, 2008 at 2:04 pm

6 Responses

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  1. PP gift cards are irritating only in that they are gift cards, namely interest-free loans with lots of fine print. I have such an aversion to the things.

    In terms of ephemera, it reminds me of an intro applied ethics class I took in college, where the prof saw no irony or inconsistency in discussing abortion in a very sober, detached way, yet also making the class watch a video about factory farming. It’s funny how much anti-abortion activists have in common with animal-rights activists — they are trying to persuade people that a broadly popular activity is not just wrong but *very* wrong, and they have to tiptoe around many of the logical consequences of their views.


    December 4, 2008 at 2:25 pm

  2. Excellent piece Liz

    Jim Azelvandre

    December 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

  3. Do the gift cards have a catchy slogan printed on them like say: “It will bring out the kid in you”?


    December 5, 2008 at 11:28 am

  4. As my post reads, I don’t think the gift certificates are a sign that PP is on the march across a new line — it’s just illustrative of what kind of organization Planned Parenthood is, the type for which there is no principled reason not to accept gift certificate for cards. It’s puts in relief just what PP values, and it’s not just giving cancer screenings to poor women.

    And again, let’s remember that Barack Obama made hid pledge to support FOCA, which would among other things require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, at Planned Parenthood, and the current story is this is something he had to do to win their support. And PP gets a lot of their revenues from abortion. So, no, I’m not buying the argument that PP is on net a reducer of abortions, anymore than BP running conservation commercials makes them a pro-environment organization.

    And speaking of bringing up epherma in order to bring about negative associations with groups, when was the last clinic bombing? By casually dropping that as something likely to happen, aren’t you engaging in the exact type of behavior your decrying? It seems to me that connecting PP with gift cards is a lot more valid, considering that it is actually and official act of PP that is happening today.


    December 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm

  5. The point of the gift certificates is that it suggests that abortion is a regular consumer good like gasoline, CD’s or books rather than a matter of any moral weight.

    Will the gift certificates result in an immediate increase in abortions? Not really. But they are a cultural indication that abortion is no big deal.

    Now, given PP’s general position on abortion, this isn’t surprising, but it illustrates that they are somewhat out of the mainstream od public opinion, which may not want to see abortion banned, but isn’t ready for it to be given the same moral weight as a CD purchase, either.

    For those on the pro-life side, it is worthwhile to highlight this.


    December 5, 2008 at 5:09 pm

  6. To ignore this would indicate that chopping little babies into little pieces for a living has become somehow normal. Perhaps — perhaps — the U.S. isn’t quite so Satanic just yet. But keep faith. Your day will come. Then the Holocaust will seem like a Sunday picnic in comparison.


    December 12, 2008 at 9:10 am

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