One of the great debates over the last few weeks has centered around Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The brouhaha started with the release of a series of undercover videos produced by anti-abortion activists that appeared to prove the organization sells fetal tissue. That prompted conservatives to call on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.
Democrats responded with their own brand of outrage, claiming the defunding would do nothing but hurt women who depend on the organization for other women’s health services.
We have quite the debate on our hands, with both sides launching successive rounds of angry rhetoric.
The U.S. House passed a measure (that incidentally redirected funds to other organizations providing women’s health services), but Senate Democrats blocked the bill through a filibuster. The left claimed victory. The right got angrier. And so it goes.
Of course, Republicans haven’t given up. They immediately launched new efforts to cut the flow of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood. If you really care about all that, you can read about it HERE.
But the entire debate completely misses the point, because it fails to consider the most basic question.
Does the federal government have the constitutional authority to fund Planned Parenthood in the first place? Or any women’s health services for that matter.
Sadly, it took the abortion controversy to get conservatives upset about something that should have outraged them to start with, that is if they really cared a whit about constitutional principals.
The Constitution does not delegate any power to the federal government to fund such things. To quote James Madison when confronted with the idea of providing federal aid to French refugees, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
I know right now somebody is screaming at their computer screen, “The general welfare clause does, you dolt!”
Well, the Father of the Constitution disagrees with you. James Madison contended the federal government was empowered to collect taxes for the general welfare but constrained by the powers enumerated in Article I Sec. 8.
“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
If you read Art. I Sec. 8 carefully, you will find no provision for funding women’s health, or abortion – or pretty much anything the federal government funds today.
You can explore the meaning of the general welfare clause in more detail HERE.
Simply put, federal funding of Planned Parenthood is unconstitutional, and so is the Republican plan to redirect that funding to other women’s health programs.