Planned Parenthood stayed a punching bag for GOP presidential candidates during last Thursday’s debate, and financially well-off conservatives continue to propagate the myth that the organization is “selling” fetal tissue. Anti-choice was so rampant during the debate that Scott Walker refused to say that he would save a woman’s life at the expense of a fetus, and Marco Rubio was forced into claiming that he would oppose abortions for victims of rape and incest. Politicians, however, may have misjudged what they consider the extent of revulsion of the group providing health care for millions of poorer people in the United States.
A majority of people has favorable opinions about Planned Parenthood—even after the release of the highly doctored videos—and a plurality of respondents opposes banning Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds. Three quarters of people in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. One in five people in the United States have gone to a Planned Parenthood clinic for health services, 29 percent of the women and ten percent of the men. Even worse for the Republicans, a 60 percent to 25 percent margin of women have positive responses about Planned Parenthood, and women are the voters that the GOP has progressively lost. Planned Parenthood is more popular than the NRA, which is calling most of the shots in the country in gun issues.
Thursday’s debate lost women’s approval not only by its bashing of Planned Parenthood but also from its refusal to decry Donald Trump’s sexist remarks. Not one candidate refuted his demeaning statements about women’s bodies until today, when they deemed it safe to criticize him. Even Carly Fiorina refused to denounce Trump’s comments and only said, “It’s not helpful to call people names…. Some Republicans do that. Some Democrats do that.”
Moderator Megyn Kelly called out Trump for his statements about women but said nothing to Walker after he waffled on her question, “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?” And nobody asked the real question, “Did the candidates support a move to shut down the government over their party’s failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood?” Fox couldn’t because an answer would show who was willing to hurt their party, something that moderator Bret Baier excoriated Trump for, after the candidate said he wouldn’t refuse to run as a third-party candidate.
Jeb Bush bragged that he defunded Planned Parenthood while he was Florida governor. In 2001, he cut over $300,000 from women’s health services, the annual amount that Planned Parenthood had received for over a decade. Here’s what happened by 2014:
- Florida ties with Arkansas and Oklahoma for the worst state for a woman’s well-being.
- The uninsured rate for women grew to 25 percent, second only to Texas.
- About 20 percent of women in Florida are in fair, poor or ill health, ranking 13th in that category in all states and territories.
- About 20 percent of women lack access to a personal doctor, physician, or general healthcare provider in Florida, three percentage points higher than the national average.
- Florida ranks 46th in the number of women who have had a pap smear in the last 3 years.
- Of Florida’s 67 counties, 23—over one-third—lack an OB-GYN.
- Women must travel more than an hour just to see a doctor in most parts of Florida.
Every state in the U.S. could look like this if Jeb Bush—or other Planned Parenthood naysayers—became president. Bush said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” When Fiorina questioned him about this statement, he said, “My record as governor of the state of Florida was we expanded women’s health spending through community-based care.” The above statistics show Bush’s “misrepresentations” and what happened when he moved the money to “community-based care.”
Despite the current braggadocio, defunding Planned Parenthood could face serious legal challenges. Medicaid law allows beneficiaries the right to pick their own health care providers as long as these providers accept Medicaid. Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee have been blocked in their efforts to cut off Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood. Susan Fogel, director of reproductive health for the National Health Law Program, said that stripping the organization’s Medicaid funding likely would be ruled discriminatory.
The failed Senate bill to defund Planned Parenthood would also not cover the gap in women’s health services if Planned Parenthood were defunded. The organization provides preventive health services—cancer screenings, family planning, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, well-woman exams, etc.—for about 2.7 million people annually. Planned Parenthood clinics account for 10 percent of all U.S. federally funded health centers and serve 36 percent of total clients who seek care at facilities that receive public funding. More than half these centers are in rural or medically underserved places.
Community health centers may not be able to provide this full range of sexual and reproductive services. Only 29 percent of these centers report that their largest clinics prescribe and dispense all types of contraceptive methods on-site but instead give referrals for some contraceptive methods. Defunding Planned Parenthood means less dissemination of contraception; less contraception means a higher rate of unwanted pregnancy, especially in teenagers; more unwanted pregnancies means a higher rate of abortion whether safely legal or dangerously illegal. Conservatives’ desire to defund Planned Parenthood results is the opposite of what they claim they want—fewer abortions.
Pleased with the bad press for Planned Parenthood, over a dozen states have each announced investigations into Planned Parenthood. Thus far, not one of them has discovered any wrong-doing on the part of the affiliates in their state.
An editorial in the conservative Washington Post has called for a stop on “the vendetta against Planned Parenthood.” It explains how the videos showcase “distorted” information “to paint an inaccurate and unfair picture of a health organization that provides valuable services to women—as well as to demonize research that leads to important medical advances—[which] doesn’t matter to antiabortion activists. Or, sadly, to the politicians who pander to them.” The Post continues:
“None of the videos released shows anything illegal and, in fact, the full footage of Planned Parenthood executives meeting with people presumed to be buyers for a human biologics company include repeated assertions that clinics are not selling tissue but only seeking permitted reimbursement costs for expenses….”
Meanwhile male lawmakers are preening themselves on the important part that they play in giving birth. For example, this from Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) who calls abortion a “men’s issue”:
“I’m a dad of two daughters. I had something to do with the birth as well, and was also there. I was there during the sonograms. My wife and I are extremely close. And to be a dad of two daughters, I’m very passionate, not only about my own wife, but about my mom, who’s a cancer survivor—multiple-time cancer survivor—I’m passionate about my daughters having every single opportunity.”
He also thinks that he should make decisions for every other woman in the United States.
Other conservatives are even crazier in discussing the issue. Fox’s Eric Bolling said that the doctored videos about Planned Parenthood are “far worse” than “the beheading videos of ISIS.” He concluded, “They literally made me nauseous, don’t watch them.” (These are videos that Fox frequently plays.)
Mike Huckabee would stop abortions with “the FBI or federal forces,” if he is to be believed.
The vast majority of people shocked by the Planned Parenthood videos mostly likely have not seen them; they just listen to how conservatives try to build horror in their aim to get money and votes. In fact, the videos discuss a processing fee—no profit—for fetal tissue donated by women who terminated their pregnancies. The National Institutes of Health funds medical research from the donations that makes lives better for people around the world. This research includes treatment for cytomegalovirus causing enlarged spleens and seizures in newborns, neuro-developmental disorders, polio (fetal kidney cells created the first vaccine), chicken pox, rubella, and shingles. The tissue for the last three disorders came from two elective abortions performed in the 1960s.
For almost a century, fetal tissue research has been vital to vaccine development. In the past twenty years, fetal tissue research has been extensively used to develop treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Conservatives don’t object to the research; they’re trying to stop safe, legal abortions.
At the same time that they express disgust at talking about fetal tissue over lunch, conservatives talk over lunch about how to destroy people’s lives, take money from the poor who are already homeless and hungry, eliminate education and jobs, permit the wealthy to hide more of their money from taxes, and kill people in a large number of countries. To them, this behavior is moral whereas women’s control of their own bodies is immoral. The defensive attitude by more progressive politicians permits conservatives to frame morality for the United States, and everyone except the wealthy is losing the battle.