What is going on here and why does it matter?
That was President Obama’s response when Speaker Boehner asked him how much he was willing to cut from Planned Parenthood in 2011.
Defunding the organization that has provided health care for 1 in 5 women in America has become a conservative obsession since the rise of the “non-partisan, tax-focused” Tea Party movement. No less than four Republican candidates for president — Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rick Perry and Scott Walker — have all rejected funds that would have provided poor women with STD screening and contraception.
The federal government provides 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget with about half a billion dollars. This cost-effective investment pays off for taxpayers, which is why the organization was championed by fiscal conservatives like Barry Goldwater and was funded without controversy through the presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Bush and Bush.
“Rabid anti-choicers” calling themselves the Center for Medical Progress have released and will release more sting videos deceptively edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood executives are engaging in illegal or unethical activity when it comes to the transfer of fetal tissue for research purposes. The group also released the full videos assuming that most news organizations would ignore that the totality of the footage debunks its own narrative. And this assumption has been largely been proven correct.
The strategy of releasing misleading videos that were partially or wholly debunked was used effectively to attack the group ACORN. Conservatives enjoyed defunding that group so much that it still does it on a semi-annual basis, even though the group has not existed since 2010.
Congressman Steve King keeps an acorn in his pocket to this day.
“This represents ACORN’s scalp,” King said last week. “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.”
That’s the end game here and every single Republican presidential candidate who has been asked has backed the federal defunding of group. Jeb Bush reiterated that pledge on Wednesday.
Republicans have been mostly silent on the issue of reproductive rights since the birth control and Todd Akin debacles of 2012. But these conservatives are insisting that it come back with a vengeance. And GOP candidates eager to win over primary voters are happy to oblige.
Did Planned Parenthood break the law?
Providing tissue for research with consent of the patient and being reasonably reimbursed for their transfer is a legal, regulated activity. It’s not just legal, actually. It’s life-saving.
“The study of fetal tissue has already led to major discoveries in human health,” Samuel M. Cohen said, a microbiologist at the University of Nebraska, testifying before Congress in 2009.
The Nation‘s Michelle Goldberg explains that fetal-tissue donation “has been used to develop vaccines, to search for treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis, and, crucially, to protect infants.”
The only suggestion of law breaking, according to Goldberg, comes when the representative of Planned Parenthood suggests they might alter a procedure upon the request of the conservative activist posing as an employee of a “human biologics company.” There’s no evidence that happened but the three Republican-led congressional committees will likely investigate that along with conservative suggestions that Planned Parenthood is profiting off the transactions.
Is this really even a scandal?
It depends on your view about reproductive rights, as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explains.
“If you think abortion is murder, then of course you think it’s wrong,” he wrote. “If you think abortion is morally benign, as I do, then you’re glad to see donated tissue being used in important medical research.”
Even if you would rather avoid abortions but understand that they’re actually more common when criminalized, you’re probably glad to know that science is being advanced whenever it can be.
In a sense, this debate is just an extension of the stem cell debate from the George W. Bush era. The right thinks any marriage of sperm and egg is life — some to the point that they even oppose in vitro fertilization. Any attempt to prevent this marriage or to do anything but make sure that embryo becomes a baby is, to these extremists, some form of murder.
So what happens if Planned Parenthood is defunded?
The same thing that would happen if Obamacare is repealed: more abortions.
The Obama Administration and Planned Parenthood are both extraordinarily successful in preventing unwanted pregnancies. As a result, abortion is now at its lowest rate since it became legal in all 50 states.
This is about denying poor people, poor women especially, control of their bodies. Rich women will always have access to the health care they need, whether it’s legal or not. Even being in the middle class allows you the means to travel to a place where abortions are safe and legal.
A real scandal is that Republicans funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to “crisis pregnancy clinics” that, rather than offering sound medical advice, often lie or mislead women.
If the right actually cared about the health of these patients, they’d open actual clinics that offer the same federally-funded services Planned Parenthood do. They don’t because this isn’t about the health of women or babies; it’s about pushing a religious mindset where a woman’s freedom is limited by her ability to conceive children.
Supporters are sticking together and thus far President Obama is remaining as steadfast against any cuts to Planned Parenthood in 2015 as he did in 2011. You can help by showing support for Planned Parenthood publicly and sharing articles that put this whole attack on reproductive freedom in context. Also keep in mind that this will really be settled next year, which is just another reason 2016 is the most important election of our lifetimes.
[Photo by Anne Savage.]