By Steven Philp
On Friday the House of Representatives passed a measure to suspend $330 million of Title X federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that tax dollars should not be granted to organizations that provide abortions. According to ABC News, votes were generally split along party lines: 240 to 185, with ten Democrats voting in favor of the bill and seven Republicans against. Debate concerning the measure was held the previous evening, including an emotional testimony by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) about her personal experience with abortion. Responding to a graphic depiction of the procedure by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Speier explained that she had elected for an abortion at 17 weeks. She continued, “For you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.” Speier then outlined how the removal of federal funding has little do with relieving the budget deficit, but rather is representative of a conservative vendetta against Planned Parenthood.
The author of the amendment, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), argues that although the public supports legal abortions, they do not want to see their tax dollars pay for them. According to an article posted on Politico, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) agreed with Pence stating, “The time has come to respect the wishes of the majority of Americans who adamantly oppose using taxpayer dollars for abortions.” Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the current congress. His views were echoed last month by Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin, President of Jews for Morality and national spokesperson of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. In an interview with the New American given before participating in the anti-choice 38th Annual March for Life, he explained that “the traditional Jewish position on abortion is that the sanctity of the life of the unborn child and pregnant mother come first and foremost. Judaism does not sanction abortion on demand. In fact, abortion is forbidden in almost all circumstances.” At the rally he led the crowd in chanting “Defund Planned Parenthood!” He was joined by a number of religious leaders from across faith lines who oppose the use of tax dollars by organizations that perform abortions.
Yet the debate seems misplaced, as Planned Parenthood is prevented by law from using the $330 million it receives from the federal government for abortions. Instead these funds are funneled in to preventative health services including contraception, pregnancy screening and counseling, cancer screening, and HIV testing. This was touched upon by a letter sent to Congress by several branches of the Reform movement—including the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis—urging the House to vote against the amendment. Although the letter outlined the need to keep money spent on abortions apart from federal funding, it stated that “Jewish tradition is emphatic about the importance of the community providing health care for its most vulnerable residents. Supporting Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women helps us fulfill that commandment.” It is unfair to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing life-saving services on the grounds that the organization also allows for abortions, a non-federally funded and legal procedure. Whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice, Jews are pro-life: As the letter states, “all life is sacred in Judaism;” Planned Parenthood provides many essential services beyond this single procedure to millions of men and women each year. It should only make sense that Jews of all denominations “stand with Planned Parenthood.”