Access Denied

The Planned Parenthood Victory That Isn’t

The GOP-led Senate failed to get enough votes to defund the reproductive health care provider. So why aren’t we feeling overjoyed?

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According to the jubilant emails I’ve been receiving since Wednesday evening, the GOP’s latest gambit to defund Planned Parenthood has failed.

I wish I were nearly as excited as they are. [Sad trombone]

While everyone from the DNC to EMILY’s List is shouting from the rooftops that the Senate vote against the reproductive health-care provider didn’t succeed, the reality is that more than half of those elected to represent the American voters actually went on record voting in favor of defunding. A full 53 senators voted to strip them of federal funds, and two of those votes were even from members of the Democratic party.

I know I should be full of joy. Or, if joy is too much of a stretch, maybe at least a smidgen of relief. If I look deep inside, it may even be there. Maybe. After all, President Obama won’t be forced to veto the bill, and that’s a bright side, especially in an ongoing battle for reproductive health-care access that is seeing fewer victories every day.

Instead, I’m just disheartened. I’m saddened by the loss of support from senators normally considered moderate, especially female senators like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who literally stood on the floor and said that “the best way to reduce the number of abortions in this country is to ensure that women have access to family-planning services they need to protect against unintended pregnancies.”

Then she voted to defund the largest provider of family-planning services in the country.

There were a number of reasons to peel away from the party line when it came to defunding Planned Parenthood. For senators like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire or Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, 2016 is a reelection year that will be won or loss on the thinnest of margins. These are senators who had the advantage of winning their seats in a low voter turnout tea-party sweep before voters had any inkling of what damage the tea party would truly do to the country. This time they are going to be forced to prove themselves in a presidential year—a feat that, say, Todd Akins or Richard Mourdock would likely say isn’t nearly as easy as it may seem.

These candidates—most candidates—should have wanted to avoid a Planned Parenthood vote, or at the very least seen the value of spinning a vote into something that most of their pro-life constituents would embrace as acceptable. After all, recent polling now shows that when it comes to Planned Parenthood and a GOP-controlled Congress, Planned Parenthood wins that popularity contest hands down.

“In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Planned Parenthood was rated positively by 45 percent of those surveyed, while 30 percent said they viewed the organization negatively,” reported Wednesday night. That support beat out favorability of the GOP as a whole by a whopping 17 points, and GOP presidential polls leader Donald Trump by almost a full 20.

Only South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham seemed to take a pragmatic approach to the vote. Rather than anger anyone on either side, he skipped the vote altogether, allegedly to do some campaigning for his presidential bid. Him winning the nomination is about as much of a far shot as Planned Parenthood actually successfully being defunded, yet he still appears to be the most politically astute member of his party just for keeping that vote off his permanent record.

Republicans don’t appear to be learning from the public’s reaction and instead seem intent on doubling down on their vendetta. Now, congressional members like Ted Cruz and Diane Black are demanding a government shutdown unless they get their defunding quest added onto the next must-pass spending measure. “We should use any and every procedural means we have available to end funding for Planned Parenthood,” Cruz told Politico, rejecting the idea that the only thing Americans are more tired of than the Planned Parenthood “battle” is the GOP shutting down the government when they don’t get their way.

To that potential threat, Planned Parenthood itself seems unfazed. “While some extreme Republicans may continue to insist on shutting down the government in order to deny health care, including birth control, to millions of women, that is a fight the American people have zero appetite for and a fight these extremists will not win,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement, according to Huffington Post. “We’re grateful that the Senate stood up for women across the country and rejected this bill.”

But they didn’t stand up. They sort of propped themselves in the hallway, holding the door shut against the mobs of anti-birth control anti-abortion senators coordinated as one in an attempt to break it down.

In the end, that’s maybe what has me so discouraged. It’s not the vote itself, but the realization that the GOP has so perfectly trained their members that even when they know their constituents might be angry, they will act as one body, moving together, performing the whims of the most extreme of their party.

It’s that unity and loyalty—and not the possibility that Planned Parenthood may successfully be defunded at some point down the road—that has me truly frightened about the future of our country.


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