Republicans in Washington are trying to gin up the courage to shut down the government unless Democrats and President Obama agree to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding.
I say go for it, boys. Whip yourselves and your base into a fine little fury and go for it. I’m sure it will work out juuuuussst fine.
Their excuse — and that’s all it is, an excuse — comes in the form of heavily edited undercover videos released recently by an anti-abortion group. In those videos, Planned Parenthood executives discuss the provision of discarded fetal tissue from abortions for research purposes. It’s admittedly not a pleasant subject, just as watching open-heart surgery or an autopsy is not pleasant for those of us not in the medical field. But we can at least be adults in discussing it.
1.) Nothing in the tapes provides evidence of illegal, let alone criminal, behavior. Planned Parenthood is allowed by law to recover its costs in collecting, preserving and transporting that tissue, and there is no evidence it violated that law. Tellingly, and despite the melodramatic complaints of conservatives, the videos have so far resulted in no criminal investigation or prosecution by state or federal authorities. Yelling and the beating of chests doesn’t alter that basic fact. Fabricated outrage doesn’t change that. Simply put, in legal terms there is no “there” there.
2.) The law making such research legal was passed in 1993, and among those voting in favor of that bill was one Mitch McConnell, the same man who now claims that videos documenting what he voted to make legal “absolutely shock the conscience.” Other current GOP senators who backed that ’93 law were Richard Shelby, John McCain, Dan Coats, Chuck Grassley, Thad Cochran and Orrin Hatch, many of whom are now backing a shutdown.
3.) Those receiving the fetal tissue are not ghouls of some sort, and the tissue is not being put to inappropriate or disrespectful use. To the contrary, the tissue is crucial to research into treatments to extend and improve human life, research that would be impossible to conduct without that material. As the New York Times reports, “the National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on research using fetal tissue in 2014 with grants to more than 50 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Yale and the University of California in Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.”
4.) All tissue used in that research is donated by clinic patients, who receive no compensation for doing so. Their sole motive is to help fellow human beings. If we ban the use of such material in research, we accomplish absolutely nothing except to halt that potentially life-saving research. So which is the true “pro-life” position?
5.) None of the $500 million in federal funding going to Planned Parenthood is used to finance abortions. It is used instead to give low-income women access to contraceptives, maternity care, breast-cancer and ovarian-cancer screenings, and vaccinations against sexually transmitted diseases. If we strip Planned Parenthood of funding for such programs as punishment for the “crime” of following the law and providing tissue for medical research, no other organization has the infrastructure, personnel and training to provide those health-care services. In effect, those women and their children would be the innocent victims of a successful effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
So again, if Republicans want to make this the hill upon which they choose to fight, I say go ahead. Their base will be impressed; I’m not sure too many others would be.