Butchery, barbarism, ghoulish, graphic.
Those were just some of the words used to describe a series of videos rolled out by the Center for Medical Progress, one each week over the last two months, showing representatives from the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood discussing transactions for or going through the process of harvesting organs from aborted fetuses.
Each of those videos, 10 thus far, were undercover recordings. Some showed company employees having discussions about the use of aborted fetuses for research, using very graphic language. Another features an employee of a company that partnered with Planned Parenthood recalling a moment in which she witnessed a fetus’ heart “beating” on an operating table.
Those videos have put the abortion issue in the middle of our country’s politics just as the 2016 presidential election cycle heats up.
During last week’s Republican presidential debate, surging GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina called on Congress to force Democrats, including President Barack Obama, to defend any measure that would strip the organization of its federal funding.
“Anyone who has watched this videotape — I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” Fiorina said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”
It shouldn’t be totally unexpected for candidates running for the Republican nomination to come out vocally against abortion, or specifically federal funding for Planned Parenthood. But closer to home, Rep. Bradley Byrne has also put emphasis on cutting funding for the organization.
“By now we have all seen the appalling videos which depict Planned Parenthood officials talking about how they crush babies in certain ways to preserve certain organs and then bargaining over the price of the organs,” Byrne said on the House floor last week. “I want to be crystal clear — the loss of any human life is a tragedy, but the casual nature in which the Planned Parenthood officials talk about killing a baby is simply heartbreaking and appalling. It is unconscionable that any American could be that cold and callous.”
In that floor speech, Byrne offered his own anecdote about the Planned Parenthood clinic in Mobile that was cited by the state Department of Health for performing two abortions on a 14-year-old in a span of four months without complying with state laws that require the reporting of possible sexual abuse.
There have been many other horror stories, and from the looks of things, momentum isn’t on the side of Planned Parenthood and its allies.
Last year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million from the federal government through two federal programs — Medicaid and Title X. That’s a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of Washington, that’s a rounding error on the Farm Bill.
And try as they may, even if it means going as far as shutting down the government, Republicans are probably not going to succeed in taking that money away.
Time and time again, Democrats have shown Planned Parenthood is a hill they’re willing to die on. To some in the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood is symbolic of the right to choose bestowed on the American people in the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
In 2012, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation announced it was going to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood. At the time they were donating around $700,000 — a relatively small amount of the reproductive service giant’s overall budget.
But it wasn’t the dollar amount that upset many on the feminist left. It was the appearance that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was caving to the pro-life fanatics on the right, and that must not be tolerated.
After a few days of backlash, the Komen Foundation reversed its decision and resumed funding for Planned Parenthood. But the message was sent: Despite all of its controversies, consider Planned Parenthood untouchable.
Although Planned Parenthood has some major public relations issues to resolve, it seems unlikely congressional Republicans will have any success in winning a fight over Planned Parenthood funding if it involves a government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has expressed his reluctance to use the government shutdown option as a weapon in the fight. While his position isn’t exactly principled, he knows that his opponents on the other side of the aisle are answering to a very vocal group of constituents that support Planned Parenthood and would just as soon have no government at all if it means granting any sort of victory to the pro-life movement.
Abortion is a lot like the gun issue in that even if someone goes into an elementary school on a mass-murder spree, the country will never overturn the Second Amendment. And gun rights proponents will make it very hard to regulate firearms.
The same goes for abortion and anything that would be viewed as a symbolic defeat for the pro-choice movement. No matter how many horrific videos surface or potential violations are committed by employees of Planned Parenthood, it still remains unlikely anyone can succeed in undermining Planned Parenthood’s federal government funding, particularly with the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and Obama in the White House.
While it sounds good coming from politicians and is even morally justifiable, it’s hard to imagine an opponent of abortion scoring a victory over Planned Parenthood.