Planned Parenthood Storm Keeps on Blowing

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Image Credit: Windblown, Zach Dischner

July 31, 2015; CNN

It’s been more than two weeks since the Center for Medical Progress released the first segment of its web series about Planned Parenthood’s “commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue,” and the controversy has not quieted. CMP has now released three more segments of “Human Capital” while PP and its supporters continue to defend the organization’s ethics and practices from attacks on many fronts in a partisan battle.

Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told CNN:

“We want to acknowledge that hearing laboratory conversations about research out of context can be jarring, especially when the conversation is being manipulated for the purpose of attacking women’s health care. Nevertheless, this coordinated attack on women’s health will not deter us from providing essential reproductive health care and from advancing important medical research.”

At the national level there is growing support among Republicans for an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Politico described a growing consensus for action among Senate and House Republicans “rallying behind a bare-knuckle strategy to strip Planned Parenthood’s government support via a must-pass fall spending bill, a momentum shift that dramatically increases the chances of a government shutdown fight this fall.” Arizona Republican John McCain suggested the move was inevitable: “It could invite a fight, but I think most Americans do not believe that their tax dollars should be used to fund the kind of grotesque procedures we’ve seen authenticated. I would vote for a spending bill that defunded it, and that’s the way it’s going to be…it’s pretty obvious.”

Orrin Hatch of Utah, the chamber’s most senior senator, called eliminating the organization’s $528 million in government funding “the right way to go,” while South Carolina’s Rep. Mick Mulvaney said dozens of House Republicans would back his threat to shoot down any legislation that funds Planned Parenthood this fall. “We have to find a way to fund the government without giving any more money to [this organization],” Mulvaney said Wednesday evening.

Republicans gearing up for the 2016 national elections are being spurred on by many of their conservative supporters, who see in the tapes evidence of the evil of abortion and/or those who support a women’s right to choose. Columnist George Will began his Washington Post column on Friday, “Executives of Planned Parenthood’s federally subsidized meat markets—your tax dollars at work…should drop the pretense of conducting a complex moral calculus about the organs they harvest from the babies they kill.” And he closed with, “What kind of a government disdains the deepest convictions of citizens by forcing them to finance what they see in videos—Planned Parenthood operatives chattering about bloody human fragments? ‘Taxes,’ said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., ‘are what we pay for civilized society.’ Today they finance barbarism.”

Countering these attacks are some powerful supporters. The Daily Caller reported that Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters at the end of last week:

“There is ample reason to think that this is merely the tried-and-true tactic that we’ve seen from extremists on the right to edit this video and selectively release this edited version of the video that grossly distorts the position of the person that’s actually speaking.”

Democratic congressional leadership has also indicated it will not bow to Republican efforts to defund. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Thursday afternoon that if Republicans follow through with linking a defunding provision to a broader government funding bill, the result will be a shutdown.

Major labor unions have issued statements in support of Planned Parenthood. Fox News reported that Mary Kay Henry, SEIU’s president, said, “We stand united with our allies at Planned Parenthood, champions of quality healthcare and a cornerstone of vital services to millions of Americans for decades.” And AFL-CIO union president Richard Trumka called the stealthy recorded videos “doctored” and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood “politically motivated and wrong.”

While some report that the controversy has caused Planned Parenthood to lose corporate donor support, this does not appear to be the case. Fortune, for example, “reached out to a couple corporations and found that support for Planned Parenthood hadn’t changed. On the contrary, the controversy seems to have solidified support from some and led to increased donations.”

State efforts to use the tapes as evidence of illegal activity in clinics proved unsuccessful in Indiana. The Christian Science Monitor reported that a state investigation had found PP’s practices to be quite proper. Governor Mike Pence had “ordered an investigation of Planned Parenthood facilities in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Merrillville to see if organs from aborted fetuses were being sold.” Following on-site investigations at the three PP facilities, the Indiana Health Department informed PP that “the agency had completed its investigation into the Planned Parenthood facilities that perform abortions in Indiana…and was unable to find any non-compliance with state regulations. Therefore, no deficiencies were cited. The letters say the complaint is closed.”

With Congress adjourned and the Republican Presidential process going strong, Planned Parenthood will continue to be a hot item. And the real impact on PP is yet to be known.—Marty Levine