03
Feb
12

Planned Parenthood and Fungible Money

Planned parenthood is again in the news, and there is a lot of debate about the impact of giving one dollar to planned parenthood.

One side says that money is fungible so that even if I give one dollar to planned parenthood to do cancer screening, I free up a dollar for PP to put the dollar they would have otherwise spent on cancer screening towards the rest of its budgeted activities, one of which is to fund abortions. So, if I give  a dollar to planned parenthood — the argument goes — then some portion of that dollar goes to funding abortions. Megan McArdle makes this argument.

Though I’m pro-choice, I don’t share the outrage that was roiling my Twitter feed this morning.  It is, as Josh Barro noted, absurd to pretend that abortion is somehow incidental to Planned Parenthood’s services, and since money is fungible, giving them money is probably helping to fund abortion provision.

The Washington Post’s Clare Coleman says the opposite.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood insist that giving the organization federal dollars allows it to spend other money in its budget to provide abortions. That is not possible — there is no other money.

Title X is a federal grant program that exists solely to help low-income and uninsured people access contraceptives and sexual health care; 5.2 million people use the program annually. But Congress has never appropriated enough money to take care of the estimated 17 million Americans who need publicly funded family-planning care. There always are more patients than subsidies.

I’m very confused by Clare, and I don’t think Megan is strictly right either.

Instead, to know what an extra dollar would do for abortion funding at PP, we would have to know whether planned parenthood prioritizes certain services and what the priority curve looks like — the budget of PP at every level of funding. In other words, the impact of  a dollar may be different depending on how much money PP already has. Pretend that PP has grown so large that it is financing all the abortions that are asked for in the whole country. Then, if I give a dollar, am I helping to fund abortion? No, because the number of abortions that are performed would be the same whether I gave that dollar or not. There are cases in which it seems that a fungible dollar will not drive an increase in abortion services.

One might object that this is obviously not the position of PP today, and on that, I just don’t know. If I gave a dollar to PP, probably some of it (a small percentage) would go to fund abortions, but it might not. It’s possible that at current levels of funding, new donations are being pushed toward some other service, so that each dollar effectively goes, 100%, to something other than abortion services.

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