On Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans failed to pass a bill that would immediately block all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. The attempt to defund Planned Parenthood was the culmination of recent national efforts by abortion opponents against the organization.
Leaders from both parties delivered impassioned arguments supporting or criticizing Planned Parenthood. The Republicans came armed with huge public outrage. The fact that the hashtag #PPsellsbabyparts was trending all last week on Twitter is evidence that the videos released, which were often graphic, hit the heart of moral opposition to abortion. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee captured the religious right’s stance on abortion when he said society has not “seen such cold-blooded indifference to human life” since the Nazis.
On the other hand, the Democrats were unified in their argument that defunding Planned Parenthood would not reduce abortions. This is due to the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother. Dems fervently reminded their colleagues that because of the amendment, potential cuts to Planned Parenthood would only harm the organization’s other services, which include adoption and prenatal care referrals, Pap Tests, breast exams, birth control, and sex education. Senator Elizabeth Warren summarized the Dems’ attack on the conservative position when she said, “It’s just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated right wing attack on women’s rights.”
With a 53-46 vote, the bill failed in the Senate. However, Republicans have vowed that this bill is just the beginning. According to Senator Rand Paul, many on the right intend to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding once a new government spending bill is introduced in September. However, they could face significant opposition from the Democrats, all but three of whom voted against the measure on Monday. The Dems have successfully employed filibusters all summer, and would likely use the tactic in support of Planned Parenthood. Abortion opponents also face the risk of an almost-certain veto from this administration should a bill reach President Obama’s desk. In turn, other members of the GOP, such as Senators Ted Cruz and John McCain, have floated the possibility of a government shutdown because, as Cruz put it, “It should be a very easy decision that taxpayer funds will not go to fund an ongoing criminal enterprise.”
This reinvigorated fight against Planned Parenthood could have significant consequences for primary candidates. Pro-choice supporters of Planned Parenthood called for presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to voice their support for the organization. They both largely came through, appealing to the liberal base.
On the other hand, GOP candidates have been eager to prove themselves to pro-lifers. Each of the 16 candidates voiced their strong opposition to the organization. Governors Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Rick Perry have all patted themselves on the back for fighting to defund Planned Parenthood in their states. Further, the most vocal of the 2016 presidential bunch have been praised over social media. However, the Republicans’ path forward could decrease the party’s overall favorability. The government shutdown of 2013 was strongly condemned by voters on both sides and could all but end a campaign for whomever takes the blame, especially Cruz, who orchestrated the 2013 healthcare shutdown. In addition, outspoken efforts to defund the organization could lose Republicans even more ground with young women, thereby following in the footsteps of Congressman Paul Ryan, who alienated many of these voters in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Already, GOP presidential frontrunner Jeb Bush is under fire for expressing broader doubts about the importance of funding women’s health programs. Meanwhile, Rand Paul is losing support from his libertarian backers as he doubles down on abortion — an issue libertarians generally agree should not be settled by the government.
In the coming months, GOP lawmakers will have to decide whether or not the fight against Planned Parenthood is worth merely firing up the Republican base. If they choose to pursue defunding in earnest, they have the month of August to determine how to proceed in a way that gets the job done without alienating too many voters.