Republicans Attack Planned Parenthood Amid Video Controversy

Over the last two weeks, Planned Parenthood has been rocked by two hidden-camera videos, both showing officials for the organization apparently discussing cash-for-tissue transactions involving aborted fetuses. While the content in many ways seems like a pro-lifer’s worst nightmare come true, even pro-choice Democrats have been surprised by the casual, jocular tone taken by both officials. At one point, one of the officials jokes about wanting to buy a Lamborghini with the extra money and mentions possibly changing abortion procedures by using a “less crunchy” extraction method, optimizing usable tissue yield. Republicans have been quick to use the scandal as a platform to attack Planned Parenthood, describing the video contents in incendiary terms such as proof of “profiting on the death of the unborn,” as presidential candidate Carly Fiorina put it on her Facebook page. The videos have come at a politically volatile time, coinciding with both the beginning of the presidential campaign season and a series of funding bills going through the Republican Senate. Of particular note is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s one thousand-plus page highway bill, already a controversial proposal for both Republicans and Democrats.

Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul has come down particularly hard on Planned Parenthood in response to the videos. He wishes to defund Planned Parenthood of its 584 million dollars in federal funding. Using these videos as leverage, he may attempt to attach amendments to the highway bill that would include total defunding or (more likely) considerable budget cuts to the women’s health organization. Such an aggressive stance could help to distinguish him in an increasingly crowded Republican field. Whether his defunding attempts will make any headway will probably depend largely on the findings of the three separate House Committees and seven states that have opened investigations into Planned Parenthood’s practices.

Despite, the somewhat disturbing contents of the videos, it is unclear at this point whether anything illegal has actually occurred. It is no secret that tissue from aborted fetuses is frequently used for medical research due to the large concentration of stem cells found in such tissue. Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization, and if the money from the transactions is being used to cover its expenses, as the organization claims, then it is legal. What the investigations are looking to prove is that Planned Parenthood is profiting off selling the tissue, in which case the organization’s nonprofit status could be threatened.

Planned Parenthood has been quick to defend itself, calling the attacks just another in a series of Republican attempts to discredit and defund the organization. Officials at the organization have cited the fairly low prices discussed in the video as proof that the payments could only be used to cover operating expenses. However, basing their defense around the price tags of fetal tissue could be seen as a somewhat tone-deaf response, seeing as outrage lies not with the specific dollar amounts but with the practice itself. Perhaps a better strategy would be to highlight the hypocrisy of Americans who are happy to benefit from life-saving medical research while preferring not to know about the practices that make such research possible. However, the organization has such strong support from Democrats that it’s hard to imagine liberal politicians agreeing to any funding cuts that are too drastic, especially with the White House on their side.

Based on the aggressive denunciations and pro-defunding responses that have come from nearly every major GOP presidential candidate in the wake of the videos, Republican nomination seekers want to prove their pro-life bona fides to their conservative base. However, such a plan could backfire in the general election. Seeing as Republicans have already lost major ground with women, such public attacks on the United States’ most famous women’s health organization could simply push them further from capturing the votes of female moderates. While the videos are undeniably uncomfortable to watch, Republicans may not want to come off as the party that cries wolf.

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