It's getting to the point where state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Mordor) and his fundamentalist cronies just make me tired. When they gather for some anti-choice conclave, as pro-life legislators and activists did for a May 23 press conference, you can tell they're caught up in feeling Born Again. I, meanwhile, just end up wondering, "Haven't We Gone Through This Before?"
Metcalfe convened the gathering to promote his "Whole Woman's Health Funding Priorities Act" — so named because, in the best Orwellian tradition, its priorities have nothing to do with women's health at all. The bill's real goal, as a Metcalfe statement candidly acknowledges, is to "permanently defund Planned Parenthood."
Although abortion is just a fraction — about 3 percent — of what Planned Parenthood does, Metcalfe's bill prohibits the state from providing any state money to agencies that provide abortion, no matter who pays for it.
The bill is new, but the rhetoric was old, with bumper-sticker talking points, like "Remember, your mother was pro-life." (Which may not even be true: In 2008, the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that more than 3 out of 5 women having an abortion already had a child; more than one-third had two or more kids.)
Then came Diane Gramley, of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, to engage in some metaphysical speculation. Bemoaning the abortions that have occurred in years past, she wondered, "Have we killed the one who would have discovered the cure for cancer, or AIDS, or [become] the next president?"
Wait, you mean because of abortion, we might not have another president? That is deep. Then again, it's also possible that abortion has spared us the next Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer. And what if that cancer cure required using human stem-cells, or some other therapy fundamentalists object to?
Don't get me wrong: It's touching to see Gramley so concerned about AIDS, considering her organization rails against the "homosexual agenda" and decries comprehensive sex education in public schools. I'm just saying: If you're basing policy decisions on what might take place in an alternate universe, abortion is pretty much a wash.
In the real world, the law already prevents Planned Parenthood from spending taxpayer dollars on abortion. Even Metcalfe's gathering didn't allege that Planned Parenthood was violating that law. Instead, attendees argued that even if the government only funded noncontroversial procedures like breast exams, taxpayers were still subsidizing abortion — by freeing up Planned Parenthood to use its own money to provide the procedure. Those at Metcalfe's event accused Planned Parenthood of running a "shell game" and an "accounting scheme." As Metcalfe himself put it, Planned Parenthood clinics "provide this testing to bring women in the front door, at the same time they have someone in the back room performing abortions."
Yes, damn those nefarious Planned Parenthooders. On the one hand, they spend taxpayer money offering the services they promised to provide. Meanwhile, in a separate room, they engage in other activities that are perfectly legal and financed by people who have no moral objection to them whatsoever. Does their perfidy know no end?
Metcalfe's cohorts acted as if they'd just uncovered some sinister plot. But arguments over "fungibility" — the notion that money given for one purpose frees up money to be spent somewhere else — are years and years old. Godless atheists have sometimes used fungibility, in fact, to argue the Constitution should bar faith-based groups from receiving government contracts to do human-services work. (In such cases, naturally, evangelicals find there's value in drawing distinctions after all.)
What puts the "fun" in fungibility is that the argument never has to stop. For example: Our tax dollars also fund billions in military and economic aid to Israel, where abortion is legal in many cases and where health care is largely financed by the government. So even if Planned Parenthood ceased to exist tomorrow, your tax dollars would still, according to Metcalfe's logic, be funding abortion. Unless the evangelicals want to cut off funding for Israel too, in which case you can ask, "Why are you siding with America's enemies in the Middle East?"
But increasingly, the only question I'm interested is this: "Is there an alternate reality where someone has finally shut up Daryl Metcalfe? And if so, how do I get there?"