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Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testifies before the U.S. House in September. (Photo: AP)

The War on Planned Parenthood

For a likely future speaker of the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) isn’t much of a speaker. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” he boasted to Sean Hannity on Fox News last week. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”

Forget McCarthy’s use of the word “untrustable,” a term I trust you will not find in the Oxford English Dictionary. McCarthy’s real sin, as far as even Republicans are concerned, was that he accidentally told the truth. For years, the GOP has laughably pretended that the House Select Committee on Benghazi — which last week surpassed the Watergate committee as the longest special congressional investigation — was a sober-minded inquiry into the deaths of four Americans in Libya. Then the man likely to be third in line to the presidency admitted, on national television no less, that it was all just another partisan witch-hunt. To quote another tongue-tied Republican: “Oops.”

Republicans haven’t done this much hand-wringing since Donald Trump rode his escalator into the presidential race. But McCarthy’s “gaffe” hasn’t put the brakes on the GOP’s cynical strategy. In fact, they plan to replicate it.

Exhibit A was the recent announcement of a Benghazi-like select subcommittee tasked solely with exposing Planned Parenthood’s supposedly nefarious activities, after the release of a widely-debunked series of videos purporting to show the organization selling fetal body parts. The new panel should not be confused with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s existing probe into Planned Parenthood. Or the House Judiciary Committee’s “Planned Parenthood Exposed” investigation. Or the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing.

Planned Parenthood, mind you, provides 2.7 million Americans annually with cancer screenings, birth control and STI testing. Abortions comprise a small percentage of its work. The organization estimates one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and 75 percent of the $500 million in federal funding Republicans hope to eliminate comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating America’s poorest patients. Break out the subpoenas!

We got a taste of the GOP’s latest assault on women’s health when House Republicans hauled Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in front of a mostly-male hearing last week. Republican committee members compared Richards to a criminal. They expressed astonishment over her salary (which is comparable to those of other chief executives of large nonprofits). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate — falsely — that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings. It was, to put it gently, a modern-day inquisition. National Review editor Rich Lowry lamented that “the only thing more painful than watching Republicans not do anything about Planned Parenthood is watching them try to do something about Planned Parenthood.”

Seeing the anti-choice crowd’s open misogyny, some might conclude, as Post reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote , that “the stormy sessions could help Planned Parenthood.” Progressives point to polls showing that 61 percent of Americans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood (only 29 percent support the Republican Party). They recall the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s ill-fated 2012 attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which backfired and resulted in $3 million in donations and an outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood. Heck, Politico reports that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is “eager for [a] Planned Parenthood fight with GOP.”

But this is a dangerous view. What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance. Since 2011, states have enacted an astonishing 287 new restrictions on abortion access. One-and-a-half abortion clinics are closing every week. Last Wednesday, a Planned Parenthood clinic near Los Angeles was deliberately set on fire.

These setbacks seriously hinder access to desperately-needed health services, especially for those without other options. Planned Parenthood says that 78 percent of its patients are low-income. A third are black or Latino. More than half of its clinics are located in rural or underserved areas. As Richards reminded us, “We’re not fighting political battles just to get a tally of win-losses. It’s because it actually does matter in women’s lives.”

That is what’s at stake. Progressives need to see this new front in an old war for what it is: an existential threat to the pro-choice movement. It is an attack on a vital institution for women and families, waged against an organization that has been an essential part of the fabric of our country for nearly a century. To lose Planned Parenthood because we are not vigilant in its defense would be a 21st-century tragedy.

So let’s not be complacent. This is a fight for our lives, and it’s time to take the fight to the extremists, to stand up not just for Planned Parenthood, but also for the people who need it most. If you want to help, consider volunteering as a clinic escort or donating to abortion funds for low-income women. Build grass-roots support around laws like the Each Woman Act and the 21st Century Women’s Health Act, which will actually enhance women’s health. And when you hear talk of videotapes and other such nonsense, remember, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said at the Aspen Ideas Festival, that what this is really about is women’s access to abortion. And respond with the same conviction that she did: “We’ve been in that world before,” she told Jake Tapper. “When I talk about 1955, I’m talking about a world where women died. I’m talking about a world where women committed suicide rather than go forward with a pregnancy they could not handle. And what the Republicans are saying is they want to go back, and I want to make it clear: We are not going back. Not now, not ever.”

© 2021 Washington Post
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine's editor since 1995.


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