The latest religious-right attack on abortion rights is a set of undercover videos made by an anti-choice group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress. Posing as potential buyers for a medical research firm, they tried to get Planned Parenthood officials to accept illegal payments in exchange for tissue samples from aborted fetuses. (Profiting from fetal tissue or organ sales is against the law, but accepting payments to cover the costs of storage and transportation is legal.) But they failed, as even the heavily and deceptively edited videos released to the public failed to show any illegal act. It was a sting attempt without any actual sting.
The conservative hope was to get proof of Planned Parenthood doing something illegal so that they could be harassed and subpoenaed to death. That step of the plan failed – Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong, as seven different state investigations all confirmed – but congressional Republicans just plowed on with the next step as if it hadn’t. It’s as though the rocket didn’t get off the launch pad, but they told the astronauts to go ahead with the space walk anyway.
What followed was a circus of absurdity, as the GOP summoned Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to badger her with hectoring, accusatory questions as if the group had been caught at something. As Paul Waldman notes, all their feverish accusations – Planned Parenthood has a lobbying arm! Planned Parenthood does abortions! Planned Parenthood operates in other countries! – “aren’t all that controversial unless your starting point is that abortion is evil and so is anything in any way connected to it”. It was if they didn’t realize that abortion and fetal tissue donation are both legal.
Some moments of the questioning reached delirious heights of absurdity, such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s confession that he hadn’t seen the unedited videos he was so angry about and didn’t have copies of them. But the masterpiece must have been this breathtakingly dishonest chart from an anti-choice group:
A graph that tries to present 327,000 as larger than 935,573 ought to be on the front cover of a textbook about how to lie with numbers.
To cap off the hearing, Republicans threatened to shut down the government (again) if they couldn’t bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicare reimbursements (even though those are all for other medical procedures; any federal reimbursement for abortion is already illegal). That threat fell flat after a compromise was struck with departing speaker John Boehner, but the House GOP is also forming a new committee whose purpose will be to pester Planned Parenthood with nuisance investigations until the end of time, much like their never-ending Benghazi committee whose purpose, according to a top member, was to inflict political damage on Hillary Clinton.
The cruelty and callousness of this strategy is astonishing. Even if you oppose abortion, you ought to recognize that Planned Parenthood is the only provider of reproductive health care for millions of women (and some men) – and not just for those who get abortions, but for women who very much want to have children. It’s a lifeline for people seeking STD tests, cancer screening, contraception, pregnancy tests, prenatal checkups. The defunding effort would rip away vital and necessary health care from millions of women, children and families. Yet anti-choice Republicans could scarcely even be bothered to care about that. In Louisiana, they issued a tossed-off list of “alternatives” that included dentists, opthalmologists and nursing homes, but nowhere near enough available and affordable family-planning clinics to meet the crush of need that would result if Planned Parenthood ceased to exist.
Given Planned Parenthood’s unbudged high favorability rating, this attack wasn’t a great success. Even anti-choice conservatives admit this. But in the runup to next year’s elections, we can expect Republicans’ legal harassment and fishing-expedition subpoenas to continue, all in the name of appeasing their openly misogynist base. I won’t be surprised if some crusader prosecutors even try to find some pretext to criminally charge clinics. As feminists have observed many times, what they really want is to punish women for having sex, and trying to cut off their access to affordable, non-judgmental health care is a consequence of that.
This is a lesson for atheists who sneer at feminism because they think the fight for women’s rights is already won. Especially in America, there’s tremendous work left to be done to shore up and protect basic reproductive freedom from the theocrats. Not only is the battle not won, we’re going backwards. There’s still a huge need for all people who care about women’s lives and equality to speak out.