Has the GOP Already Moved Past Planned Parenthood?

At last week's Congressional hearing, Republicans appeared to be setting the stage for something even more devastating than defunding the health-care provider.

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Last week, the House Judiciary Committee spent four hours allegedly “investigating” the medical practices of Planned Parenthood clinics that perform abortion and participate in tissue procurement and donation. It quickly became apparent to anyone who actually managed to sit through the four hours of testimony, that neither tissue donation nor Planned Parenthood were the real focus here. This was merely a public stage to discuss the atrocity that is abortion, and how graphic and bloody the process of terminating a pregnancy can be.

Did the Congressional GOP forget the purpose of the proceedings? Did they get caught up in anti-abortion grandstanding? Or are they just feeding red meat to their base as they head into an election year? Because while the latter is definitely true, I see something even more subtle, and more sinister, going on.

Abortion opponents are setting up for a federal ban of D&Es. If successful, it will be almost impossible to get an abortion after the first trimester, regardless of which state a person lives in.

D&E, or Dilation and Evacuation, is the most common abortion procedure after the first trimester. Unlike an abortion in the first 14 weeks gestation (12 weeks from ovulation) where vacuum aspiration is able to remove the embryo or fetus, forceps or other instruments may be necessary because the fetus and other products of conception may not fit through the small tube inserted into the uterus. Without the ability to obtain a D&E, a pregnant person’s other options would be to be induced to go into labor and deliver a fetus that is far too undeveloped to be viable, or to have medical intervention to ensure fetal demise prior to the procedure, which offers more health risks to the pregnant person obtaining the abortion.

Unless you’re a medical doctor, listening to the gory details of these kinds of procedures can sound gross to the layperson—and the facts, easy to take out of context or manipulate. But James Bopp Jr., a lawyer (and not a doctor) for National Right to Life Committee, and a number of anti-abortion Republicans, spent most of the four hours of the committee describing—and dramatizing—a second-trimester abortion. During his opening remarks, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks said, “Legal abortion after 20 weeks—a point at which only a tiny percentage of abortions take place—is ‘the worst human rights atrocity in the history of the United States,’ claiming that many fetuses aborted after 20 weeks ‘cried and screamed as they died, but because it was amniotic fluid going over the vocal cords instead of air, we couldn’t hear them,’” according to Right Wing Watch. “’What is so liberating about brutally and painfully dismembering living, helpless little human babies?’”

The effort became even more obvious later, when chairman and Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte peppered lawyer Priscilla Smith, the sole pro-abortion-rights guest invited to testify before the committee, about whether a D&E was “humane” or not. “During questions from members of the panel, Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte read to Smith a portion of the Supreme Court decision describing a dismemberment abortion procedure during which the limbs of the unborn baby are torn off and the baby is dismembered and pulled apart,” reports Lifenews.com. “After reading the description of the abortion procedure, Congressman Goodlatte asked Smith, ‘Do you believe this is a humane way to die?’ … Smith hems and haws about whether the unborn baby is viable, but Goodlatte interjects that the Supreme Court discussed this abortion procedure happened to a baby who was eventually born alive but missing an arm because of an unsuccessful abortion. Eventually, Smith finally answered: ‘Yes, a D&E procedure is a very humane procedure.’”

The line of questioning between Smith and Goodlatte is extremely significant, and has little to do with the actual Planned Parenthood battle the GOP claims was the impetus for the hearing. Smith, as well as being the director of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, also served as the lawyer protecting abortion rights when the so-called “partial-birth Abortion” ban was heard at the Supreme Court. Anti-abortion advocates who have written and promoted the new D&E bans being introduced in legislatures across the country have claimed that the decision to ban “partial-birth abortions” lays the groundwork to prove that D&E bans are constitutional as well, because they aren’t “total” bans but procedure-based bans.

“There is every reason to believe the Congressional hearings into Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue research is a Trojan horse to lay the groundwork for a national D&E ban,” Jessica Mason Pieklo, Senior Legal Analyst at reproductive rights news site RH RealityCheck (and my co-author of our book on the Red State battle to ban abortion) told DAME Magazine. “James Bopp Jr., one of the architects of the so-called federal partial birth abortion ban, was a key witness. Like abortion opponents did with partial-birth abortion bans, they also have a model in place in the states.”

Mason Pieklo speculates that the decision to introduce the first D&E ban in Kansas may have been because they knew the Center for Medical Progress’s videos were in the works, and they would provide massive fodder for this particular debate. “Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue and one of the board members of CMP the shell entity created to smear Planned Parenthood is based in Kansas and is a strong supporter of Kansas’s D&E ban,” she noted.

What that means is that the hearing, while ostensibly being about the “evils” of Planned Parenthood, really was just a front to lay the groundwork—and prep the Congressional record—for more D&E bans, perhaps even a federal one. “That’s why the witnesses against Planned Parenthood repeated again and again the dismemberment process,” said Pieklo. “They are trying to build a factual record to support a national D&E ban.” 

So what does that mean in the real world? If we continue the path that we’ve seen in the last few years, the best-case scenario is a handful of model D&E bans, most only being successfully passed in red states, much as we saw with the 20-week abortion bans during the last few legislative cycles. If Kansas is any indication, we will see courts step in and block them, but other courts may disagree. The anti-abortion movement’s goal, as always, is to get a challenge to the law all of the way up to the Supreme Court, and to enact as many state-level bans as possible along the way.

Meanwhile, they are already prepping the evidence they will present if they do manage to get a D&E ban in front of the highest court in the land. And, thanks to Goodlatte’s “hearing,” they now have Congressional testimony opposing the procedure once they finally make it there.

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