Modern conservative media isn’t really about sharing the news and improving audience understanding (and probably never was). The most recent demonstration of this fact comes courtesy of Fox News’s relentless campaign to create a story out of a nonstory about Planned Parenthood helping sign people up for health insurance under a government program created under the Affordable Care Act. One segment after another makes it clear that Fox’s strategy here is not to tell a coherent story but to bunch buzzwords together—“Obamacare,” “Planned Parenthood,” and “abortion”—and hope that pressing their audience’s buttons will get them all riled up not just about Obamacare but also about the very existence of affordable reproductive health care of the sort offered at Planned Parenthood.
So what are Fox viewers supposed to be so upset about this week? Some Planned Parenthood clinics successfully applied for navigator grants to help sign up people for health insurance. That’s it. Despite heavy and overheated coverage of the story, there’s no reason to fear that people who use Planned Parenthood’s help to get health insurance are going to suddenly find themselves having abortions, or even be unduly pressured to use condoms, if that’s what right-wingers are fearing these days. On the contrary, the point of these grants is to help Planned Parenthood use their already-existing patient base to get people signed up for health insurance through the federal exchange. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England described their intent: “PPNNE will assist patients and other consumers with understanding new programs, taking advantage of consumer protections, and navigating the health insurance system to find the most affordable coverage that meets their needs.” Sounds basic, right?
Well, if you’re watching Fox, you’d think it’s apocalyptic. Right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher acted like there was nothing more outrageous than a public health clinic getting involved in a program that helps people get better access to health care. “I always try to anticipate what my friends on the left will possibly say to try to defend this egregious about-face,” he chuckled on Fox. The “about-face” is a reference to the overt lie underpinning this entire campaign against Planned Parenthood, which is the conservative claim that Obama somehow promised that Planned Parenthood as an entity would not get any federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. Obama made no such promise. He signed an executive order disallowing abortion to be covered in health-care plans sold on the exchange, but signing people up for health care should not be equated with giving them abortions or even giving them plans that cover abortion. That’s like saying the Department of Motor Vehicles is casting your ballot for you by giving you the opportunity to register to vote—an outright and inflammatory lie.
In recent years, conservatives have taken to talking about Planned Parenthood like you can’t walk by one without tentacles flying out from its door and forcibly terminating any pregnancies you might have. Even though Sen. Jon Kyle was roundly mocked in 2011 for lying about the organization and saying that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is abortion (in fact, abortion is about 3 percent of what the organization does), the intense campaign to make “Planned Parenthood” synonymous with “abortion” has only intensified in conservative circles.
It’s easy to see why: anti-choice activists object not just to abortion but to any reproductive technologies or sex education that makes it easier for people, women especially, to have sex without serious negative consequences. However, conservatives know that attacking contraception access too openly isn’t popular, so instead they simply imply that Planned Parenthood is all about abortion as a back-door way to undermine their funding for the majority of their work, which centers on helping women prevent unwanted pregnancy (and therefore abortion). The hope is that they can use the stigma of abortion to cast doubts on the practice of providing affordable contraception and other forms of reproductive health care, such as sexually transmitted infections testing and treatment.
Now it’s clear that the hope is that health insurance itself can be stymied and stigmatized by falsely equating it with abortion. Rep. Diana Black, a Republican from Tennessee, all but called signing up for health insurance with Planned Parenthood the same thing as abortion by declaring that the president had broken some imaginary promise, claiming there were “assurances from the president when the law was passed that Obamacare would not give federal funding to abortion providers.” Black is implying that sitting in a Planned Parenthood with a representative who is showing you how to navigate the health-care-insurance exchange somehow supports abortion or makes it more prevalent. That is so transparently untrue that it’s almost laughable.
Not that it should be surprising that there’s a last-ditch effort by Republicans to attack every avenue that might make it easier for people to sign up for the health-care exchanges so they can get affordable health insurance. The attempts to keep individuals from even looking at the health-care exchanges have included running radio ads trying to scare low-income people from attempting to sign up for the exchanges and trying to get people to pledge not to avail themselves of the health-care plans offered on the exchange. It’s no surprise, then, that having accessible health-care clinics offering to walk patients through the sign-up service so they can get better health-care insurance is offensive to conservatives. That’s why there are all these attempts to equate sitting down at a computer to get health insurance with having or even just supporting abortion.
Regardless of your feelings on abortion rights or access, if you truly are for better health and better lives, then having Planned Parenthood dispense advice on signing up for the health-care exchanges is a good thing. More than 45 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2012, and a good number of them go to Planned Parenthood, because it’s an affordable option for contraception and cancer screenings. In fact, few other organizations have as much access to people who can be helped by having a worker walk through the sign-up process to get affordable health-care insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The fact that Planned Parenthood is eager to help so many patients get into health-care plans, even if that means a lot of them will go elsewhere for medical care, shows that Planned Parenthood really is just what it claims to be, a health-care organization whose primary goal is making sure that ordinary people get the medical care and attention they deserve.