THE Oklahoma State Department of Health is ending a contract with Planned Parenthood to provide food vouchers to low-income pregnant women and young children as part of the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Planned Parenthood blames politics for the change; the department says it was a simple business decision.
We find the department's explanation plausible. Put simply, other providers may be a better fit to serve women with children than Planned Parenthood. While Planned Parenthood is more than an abortion provider, there's no denying that it's mostly associated with terminating or preventing pregnancies rather than helping women with the nutritional needs of their unborn and born children. The group is known for reproductive services, not for feeding the poor.
Planned Parenthood's public image is such that if you saw a pregnant woman entering its doors, you'd assume she wouldn't be pregnant for much longer — and not because she delivered her baby.
Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma don't do abortions, but they do provide referrals for abortions. Figures vary, but outside groups reviewing annual reports have estimated that up to a third of patients at Planned Parenthood clinics get an abortion; anywhere from a third to half of clinic income may be generated by abortions. An analysis by Stop Planned Parenthood (as the name demonstrates, a harsh critic) estimated Planned Parenthood provided 10.5 abortions for every prenatal service in 2010.
Planned Parenthood claims only a small fraction of its services are abortion-related. Even if critics overstate their case, most people suspect Planned Parenthood's own figures are designed to downplay its status as abortion provider.
Either way, the group's image as an abortion-above-all entity is ingrained in public perception. Such “political” views have a practical effect that limits the organization's usefulness in distributing WIC funds and justifies the Health Department's nonpolitical business decision. In a nutshell, Planned Parenthood is probably far down the list of venues women visit when seeking nutritional care for babies they intend to bring into this world.
WIC's nutritional-support funds could be more effectively distributed by other providers serving more of the target population of women with children.
Beyond the practical goal of better serving the women and children benefiting from government nutrition programs, the Health Department's decision to end Planned Parenthood's contract achieves a secondary objective that agency officials would not consider but is of public interest. Many Oklahomans oppose abortion on moral grounds. Those citizens don't want their tax dollars used, directly or indirectly, to fund something they consider to be the killing of a child.
To the degree WIC contracts free up other Planned Parenthood money, many Oklahomans will suspect their taxes are being used to indirectly subsidize an abortion industry they oppose.
If the Health Department can find other providers better suited to handling WIC money and serving low-income women and children without the perception problems that come from working with Planned Parenthood, then that's a win for the needy families served through WIC and for public perception of government.
As a private institution, Planned Parenthood remains free to promote its viewpoints and provide whatever services its leadership feels are appropriate — including abortion. But the organization isn't entitled to a perpetually guaranteed government contract.