Another year, another controversy over Planned Parenthood. Selectively edited videos filmed by an anti-abortion activist have given partisans another excuse to attack women’s reproductive services, starting with those provided by a well-established non-profit dedicated to women’s health care. Never mind that abortions represent a tiny percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work.
Some Republicans have gone so far as to threaten to shut down the government unless all federal funding for Planned Parenthood is eliminated. (By law, none of that money supports abortion services.) Even as prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell try to tamp down that impulse, others — firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) among them — continue to insist that the entire government should be brought to its knees when Congress returns to work after Labor Day.
This is really just another opportunity to try to limit women’s reproductive choices, another chance to grandstand and exaggerate. If this outrage reflected genuine concern about lives ended while still in the womb, wouldn’t more conservatives be worried about what happens to poor babies once they are born?
For decades now, I’ve listened to anti-abortion activists rail against a “culture of death,” a callous disregard for the unborn, the “murder” of babies still in the womb. I’ve witnessed protests outside abortion clinics, listened to “pro-life” state legislators mischaracterize rape, and covered misleading campaigns that suggest abortions lead to breast cancer and mental illness. I’ve watched as hostility toward Roe v. Wade has become a litmus test inside the Republican Party.
But here’s the disconnect: Over those years, I’ve also seen anti-abortion crusaders become increasingly hostile to programs and policies that would aid poor kids once they’ve come into the world. Conservative lawmakers have disparaged welfare, criticized federal housing subsidies and even campaigned against food assistance. How does that affect those children for whom they claim so much concern?
In Alabama, where anti-abortion sentiment is as commonplace as summer heat waves, the state legislature is contemplating cutting millions from Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poorest citizens, including children. Meanwhile, the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, are among those demanding that Planned Parenthood receive no more federal funds because of the controversy over the sale of fetal tissue.
To be fair, there are those among abortion critics who show a principled concern for poor children, whose opposition to abortion is paired with a passion for social justice. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is among the rare GOP governors to support the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with Saint Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You’d better have a good answer,” he said in June.
Then there are the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, led by nuns. They’ve also adopted assistance to the poor as a core mission.
Their compassion stands in contrast to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which is largely known for its conservative stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. (That may change with Pope Francis, who has made social justice his hallmark.) Last year, I attended a Catholic high school commencement where the headmaster, a priest, bragged about the number of his students who had attended anti-abortion protests. He said nothing about protests over cuts in assistance to the poor.
It’s easy enough to inflame with the Planned Parenthood videos; without context (again, selective editing), leaders of the organization are heard discussing money for the donation of fetal tissue. That’s not a conversation that’s easy to hear.
But Planned Parenthood is doing nothing illegal, and fetal tissue research has been vital to improving the quality of life for an aging America. Many of those who are angered by the videos would be surprised to know that they may have benefited from fetal tissue research.
Still, I’d take their criticism more seriously if they’d spend as much time trying to help poor children once they are born. Since they don’t, they’re just engaging in a war on women — especially women who don’t have any money.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, August 15, 2015.
With one careless comment, Jeb Bush revealed a fundamentally indifferent attitude toward half the U.S. electorate.
“I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said in a speech at the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was a throwaway aside in a longer blather about defunding Planned Parenthood, and one imagines that no sooner were the words out of his mouth than his cringing consultants were drafting a clarification.
The inevitable statement soon followed, admitting he “misspoke” and adding that “there are countless community health centers, rural clinics and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded.”
Too late. The game was on. Hillary Clinton blasted back, “When you attack women’s health, you attack America’s health.”
I don’t believe Bush misspoke. There’s something about abortion he wishes to ignore: Abortion is a women’s health issue. You cannot separate abortion from this context.
Oppose it or not — and I do — abortion is a medical procedure that ends an unwanted or health-threatening pregnancy. If we want to encourage the trend toward decreasing numbers of abortions in this country — and no one in their right mind wants to see more of them — we need to bolster women’s reproductive health services. That means ensuring wide access to sex education and contraceptives. (It also means honestly admitting that an overwhelming majority of Americans accept that abortion should be permitted when a pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or when the health of the mother is threatened.)
If you oppose abortion and you’re not ready to promote the most effective ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies, you’re not serious. If you call for “defunding” Planned Parenthood — as virtually the entire Republican Party does — you are attacking a leading purveyor of contraceptives and information about how to use them for women of limited economic resources. You’re also threatening to shut down 700 clinics that provide crucial preventative health measures like pap smears and refer women for mammograms.
About 85 to 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work is providing these basic health services, often to low-income women without access to health insurance. That’s according to analysis of the organization done by PolitiFact. Abortions add up to about 3 percent of the organization’s services, and they are not funded with federal money.
A recent vote in the U.S. Senate to defund Planned Parenthood, which failed, called for redirecting the monies to other women’s health facilities that did not provide abortions. The problem is that there are far too few such clinics to meet the need. Moreover, the effort misunderstands how Planned Parenthood receives $528 million annually: mostly through Medicaid reimbursements and competitive Title X family planning grants.
The plain truth is that the Republicans who wish to destroy Planned Parenthood — and Bush is far from the most vociferous — really don’t care that the bulk of its work has nothing to do with abortion. Nor do they care about standards of accuracy in the accusations they make against the organization.
They have worked hand in glove with the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group inspired by the ethically dubious video techniques of conservative activist James O’Keefe. This group set up a phony front company and then lured Planned Parenthood officials into secretly videotaped conversations about providing fetal tissue for research. The group then released videos selectively edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood was in the illegal business of selling fetal tissue.
The bogusness of this charge is patently obvious when one views the unedited tapes, but that matters little to GOP opportunists, who promise all sorts of congressional inquisitions.
Fine. Hold hearings. See what you find. My guess is that it will be zilch (See: Benghazi).
Meanwhile, the American public needs to know that these new anti-abortion activists are picking up the cudgels of the folks that brought us the so-called Summer of Mercy protests that required federal marshals to restore order in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1990s. Tactics used to include clinic bombings and harassing any woman who set foot near a clinic, regardless of what services she might be seeking.
That phase of the movement failed, although it never went away. In 2009, Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller was shot dead at his church.
Pro-life activists have figured out that it’s better to co-opt the Republican Party than to engage in terrorism. That’s progress. Unfortunately, disingenuous attacks on women’s health care purely to court votes do no favors to either women or unborn babies.
By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion Page Columnist, The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, August 12, 2015
So here we are again: Republicans want to make a policy change, but since doing so will be difficult through the ordinary legislative process, they are threatening to shut down the government to get what they want.
This time it’s about Planned Parenthood, long a target of conservative loathing. Galvanized by selectively edited videos made by conservative activists trying to make it seem as though the organization is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, Republicans in Congress are now trying (as they have before) to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The White House says it will veto any budget bill that does that.
In response, at least some conservatives have reverted to a time-worn tactic: Shutdown! Ted Cruz says if that is what it takes to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so be it. Some of his allies in the House seem to agree. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson demands, “If Republicans are not willing to make this their hill to die on…the Republican Party needs to be shut down.”
For the record, most of the money Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government comes from reimbursement for health care services through Medicaid. Precisely zero goes to abortion services; by law, no federal funds can go to abortions. So when Republicans say they want to “defund” Planned Parenthood, what they’re talking about is taking away medical services — breast cancer screenings and the like — from poor women.
I’m not going to go too deeply into the videos, other than to say that nothing in them shows that the organization did anything illegal. The worst anyone has been able to say is that the “tone” used by Planned Parenthood officials was callous. You can object to fetal tissue research if you like, even though it’s done with the consent of patients and can yield valuable medical insights, but there’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood isn’t complying with the laws that cover how that tissue can be used.
Until Barack Obama became president, most government shutdowns happened for one reason: because Congress and the president couldn’t agree on a budget. Sometimes the issues were broad, like cuts to domestic spending, and sometimes they were more specific. But they were usually connected in some rational way to the perceived necessity for a shutdown, in that there was disagreement on how to spend the money that will keep the government operating.
But Republicans in the Obama era have been nothing if not creative thinkers when it comes to policy procedures and norms. And in this area, their innovation was to say, “We have a policy disagreement with the other side, but we can’t get our way through the normal channels. So how about if we shut down the government until we get what we want?”
There’s one important fact about this threat that you’d think Republicans would have learned by now: It always fails. The public doesn’t rally around the shutdowners’ cause, because it violates a basic sense of how policy-making ought to operate. Congress can bicker and fight, but the way it makes decisions is that legislators vote on things, and the side with more votes wins (except for proposals that are filibustered, but that’s a different story), subject to the presidential veto. If you lose through that process, you’ve lost, period. Even if you were right on the merits, the system’s rules are longstanding and familiar enough that they seem fair, since everyone understands the rules and agrees to live under them.
But relying on a shutdown is like a baseball team that’s trailing at the start of the ninth inning, so they hide all the balls and say they won’t return them until they’re declared the victor. It just doesn’t seem right.
And it isn’t just that Republicans can’t get enough public support for the shutdowns — more importantly, they don’t actually get what they want. In 2013, they shut down the government in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, you may have noticed, is still around. In 2014, they nearly shut down the government in an attempt to stop Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That failed there, too (though some of those actions have been held up in the courts).
It should be noted that the congressional GOP leadership is smart enough to say they’re not interested in another shutdown psychodrama. But if they’re in a tough spot, besieged by their more conservative members — not to mention outside groups and pundits — there’s no denying the part they’ve played in making this a regular demand of conservatives. It was the congressional leaders who devised the strategy of opposing Barack Obama on everything and filibustering every bill of any consequence. They’ve happily gone along with the hysteria on the right that says that Obama isn’t just a president they disagree with, but an enemy of America who seeks to destroy everything we hold dear. They’ve encouraged the belief that compromise is always, and by definition, an act of betrayal.
Given all that, is it any surprise that whenever a new issue comes up, at least some on the right think it’s a hill worth dying on? Shutting down the government might be doomed to fail, but I suppose it feels like fighting.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 3, 2015
By now, the basic outline of this week’s Planned Parenthood controversy is probably familiar to most news consumers. A right-wing group released a sting video – as right-wing groups are wont to do – featuring a Planned Parenthood official talking candidly about fetal tissue, which prompted a conservative uproar.
Soon after, we came to realize that the right-wing group edited the video in a misleading way– as right-wing groups are wont to do – and the “controversy” didn’t amount to much of anything. It’s not clear why the Washington Post put the story literally on the front page, since there are no credible allegations of wrongdoing. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called it a “nothingburger,” adding, “In the end, this is just another sad attempt at a sting video that goes nowhere once you get beyond the deceptive editing.”
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards officially responded to the story yesterday, explaining that the organization did nothing wrong, though she acknowledged that the Planned Parenthood official featured in the sting video spoke with a “tone” that was “unacceptable.”
In theory, that should effectively end the controversy, such as it was, and since my wife works for Planned Parenthood – her work is completely unrelated to fetal tissue and she played no role in this report – I was prepared to look past it altogether. But a Roll Call article yesterday pushed the story in an unexpected direction: some congressional Republicans have known about the video for weeks.
Rep. Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said at a Wednesday news conference he’d seen the clip weeks before.
Asked afterward why he and others waited until this week to take action, Murphy struggled for an answer before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call, saying he should not be quoted and remarking, “This interview didn’t happen.”
Well, actually, it did happen, and members of Congress can’t talk to reporters, then retroactively pretend they didn’t.
In this case, Roll Call asked why the story, if it’s as scandalous as Republicans are now claiming, didn’t break immediately. If GOP lawmakers consider the revelations an outrage, why did some members say nothing for nearly a month?
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), before pretending the interview “didn’t happen,” said, “Um, I don’t know why. All I know is I saw it and he said he was going to post it eventually, so that’s all I know.”
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), one of Congress’ most strident opponents of reproductive rights, also said he first saw the video about a month ago, but also said nothing. “The hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media,” Franks argued yesterday.
It’s a curious argument. Republicans have spent the week characterizing this as a potentially criminal scandal, but when some far-right lawmakers saw the video weeks ago, they didn’t feel the need to do much of anything – they didn’t run to the GOP leadership to demand action; they didn’t call allies in conservative media; they didn’t hold a press conference to express outrage. If they genuinely saw the video as proof of illegal Planned Parenthood activities, notifying the “authorities” could have happened immediately.
But it didn’t. So what is this really all about? Consider this Politico report published overnight:
Republicans on Capitol Hill are betting the secretly filmed Planned Parenthood video — depicting an executive allegedly discussing the sale of fetal organs from terminated pregnancies — will give them cover to more aggressively push abortion issues without the political ramifications that have haunted the party in the past. […]
[Iowa Republican Steve King] was one of the first lawmakers to urge the defunding of low-income housing group ACORN, which went belly up following similar undercover videos suggesting criminal activity.
To this day, he keeps a tiny acorn in his pocket to remember his crusade. Now, he’s got his eyes on another organization. “This represents ACORN’s scalp,” King said off the House floor Thursday, pulling the acorn out of his pocket. “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.”
Ah, there it is. Republicans don’t have proof of Planned Parenthood wrongdoing, but rather, have a desire to claim a “scalp.” When the GOP went after women’s healthcare in 2012, it backfired on the party, so Republicans hope a misleading video will offer new opportunities to try the same move again.
That’s the point of the GOP calls for investigations, hearings, and probes. That’s why Republicans are trying to use this story to raise money and advance their personal ambitions.
Those who were inclined to take the story seriously should probably adjust their perspective accordingly.
Postscript: The video released by the Center for Medical Progress doesn’t show Planned Parenthood doing anything illegal, but whether the video itself was recorded illegally is a separate matter.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 17, 2015
Since Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus introduced the “Growth and Opportunity Project” in mid-March, the party has proven over and over and over again that it just isn’t ready to change.
The latest example of the GOP being intellectually and politically stuck in the 2012 presidential primaries comes courtesy of one of the stars of those disastrous contests: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. According to Santorum, the Republican Party’s path to revitalization is not a new round of engagement with women, young voters, and other groups that delivered an electoral landslide to President Barack Obama in November. No, Santorum has a different plan for saving the GOP: defunding Planned Parenthood.
The Raw Story reports that Santorum presented his three-point plan to save the party in a fundraising email over the weekend: mobilizing “pro-family conservatives,” “refuting the lies and half-truths that our detractors in the GOP are spreading about us,” and attacking the women’s’ health care provider.
“[W]e are going to push Republican congressional leaders to defund the monstrosity that is Planned Parenthood,” Santorum wrote. “Too many in the GOP want to ignore the millions of innocent lives that have been extinguished by this vile organization. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a winning issue. The polls prove it.”
In reality, polls prove the exact opposite — Americans oppose cutting the organization’s budget, and there’s reason to believe that Mitt Romney’s insistence on attacking Planned Parenthood cost him dearly on election night — but it comes as no surprise that Santorum, who lost his last general election by 17 points, would ignore the numbers.
But Santorum’s plan could signal a serious problem for the Republican Party. Despite the RNC’s effort to moderate the GOP’s tone with an eye towards the 2016 election, it’s clear that extreme right-wing rhetoric will still play a major role as the party settles on a nominee. In fact, Santorum himself may be the messenger once again.
All of the rebranding efforts in the world — even the NRCC’s nifty new website, which features a BuzzFeed-style “13 Animals That Are Really Bummed About Obamacare” listicle (but almost no mention of the word “Republican”) — won’t make a difference as long as the party is represented by ambassadors like Rick Santorum.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, April 8, 2013