Whenever the Republicans target Planned Parenthood, I always remember what Jon Kyl said in the spring of 2011. Because the GOP senator’s lie - and a spokesman’s defense of that lie - nicely illustrates the party’s eternally hostile attitude.
Kyl was on the Senate floor, arguing that the family-planning group should be stripped of its federal funding, when he declared: “If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” Actually, abortions are three percent of what Planned Parenthood does. How was it possible that Kyl could be off by 87 percent? No problem, said Kyl’s spokesman - because the senator’s remark was “not intended to be a factual statement.”
Not intended to be a factual statement...That’s one of the great lines in contemporary Republican politics, and it’s no surprise it was coined in the service of the party’s war on Planned Parenthood.
They can’t figure out how to finance our critical highway and bridge repairs, and they’re hung up on a bill to help women war veterans, but hey, they always make time to go after Planned Parenthood. The organization gets roughly $500 million a year in federal money - for things like Pap tests, sexually-transmitted infection screenings, and contraception - and it serves three million women, a large percentage of whom are poor. With a brief like that, no wonder Republicans view it as a juicy target.
They’ve long been jonesing to cancel the federal money, using abortions as an excuse - even though Planned Parenthood doesn’t spend any of its federal money on abortions (that kind of spending is already illegal), and even though abortions have been the constitutionally-recognized law of the land for the last 42 years.
This time, an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress (clever twist on the word progress) claims that Planned Parenthood illegally sells the tissue from aborted fetuses. The group set up a fake tissue procurement company, and sent fake company employees to a meeting with Planned Parenthood officials to discuss the donation of fetal body parts for science. With the help of a hidden camera, the fake employes seemingly caught them talking about the sale of the body parts for profit. Which, if true, would be illegal.
But the latest crusade has a big problem.
Turns out, the full unedited video does not support the claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sells body parts for profit. Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services states on camera that the group doesn’t profit from tissue donation, and that it only accepts money to cover the costs of tissue collection and transportation. Indeed, those reimbursements are permitted under federal law. And tissue is donated only with the consent of the patient. All told, said Planned Parenthood’s senior director, “This is not something with any revenue stream....Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this....No one’s going to see this as a money making thing.”
And when fetal tissue is transported, where does it go? To health labs, where the war against disease is waged daily. So says the American Society for Cell Biology. The tissue is used to develop better treatments for (among others) Parkinson’s, heart defects, hepatitis, and HIV. Government agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, annually provide tens of millions of dollars for fetal tissue research. For reasons that right-wingers apparently cannot fathom, the feds think it’s a good thing to try and save lives.
Actually, there once was a time - believe it or not - when Planned Parenthood had bipartisan support. Richard Nixon signed a family planning law in 1970, mandating federal bucks for Planned Parenthood Peggy Goldwater, wife of conservative icon Barry, was a founding member of its Arizona affiliate. The senior George Bush, way back when he was a Texas congressman, talked so much about family planning that he earned the nickname “Rubbers.”
But today’s culture war takes no prisoners. Sane Republicans have long warned that the GOP’s obsession with Planned Parenthood is a political loser, that it alienates women voters, that (in the words of former George W. Bush strategist Mark McKinnon) it makes the party look “narrow, intolerant, and backward.” No matter. For conservative Ahabs, Planned Parenthood is the white whale.
In this culture war, all verbal ammo is welcome. Including the kind that’s “not intended to be a factual statement.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com