5 Reasons Why the GOP Push to Defund Planned Parenthood Won’t Go Away

On Friday afternoon, before the agreement between the White House and Congressional leadership averted a government shutdown, Rep. Mike Pence, the leader of the Republican charge to defund Planned Parenthood, released the following statement:

It has been erroneously reported in the media that Congressman Pence has signaled a willingness to accept a compromise on the Pence Amendment in the negotiations over a long-term Continuing Resolution. These reports are inaccurate. Congressman Pence has made no statement concerning the ongoing negotiations and remains committed to the Pence Amendment and will continue to work with colleagues to include this measure in any final legislation.

While it’s true that Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate stood their ground on the Planned Parenthood funding, it’s also true that the Republican-led House will not give up on its quest to end it. Here’s why:

1. The Republican Party’s religious right base has been led to believe for years that “defunding Planned Parenthood” is a principal goal of a Republican Congressional takeover.

For years, Republicans, and especially Pence, have made “defunding Planned Parenthood” a central part of their appeal to the social conservative base. At Values Voters Summits, where members of Congress and presidential aspirants strut their social conservative bona fides, pledges to defund Planned Parenthood frequently are the most enthusiastic applause lines. In fact, the possibility of defunding Planned Parenthood was frequently depicted as one of the chief goals of achieving a Republican House takeover.

As Pence’s press release from last week makes clear, the Planned Parenthood rider that became a key issue in last week’s budget showdown was not merely a negotiating ploy to disrupt the process. It reflects a central goal of the Republican leadership’s agenda. That the Republicans conceded the rider under the pressure of possibly being blamed for a government shutdown does not mean that the anti-choice movement will stop trying. Rather, it’s likely that they will step up their efforts, rhetoric, and fundraising in light of the failure to push the rider through in this round.

2. The Tea Party and social conservatives are not separate parts of the Republican leadership, Republican majority, or the Republican base.

Much of the news coverage of the budget showdown last week depicted two competing parts of the Republican House: Tea Partiers who wanted deeper cuts in government spending, and social conservatives whose principal goal was defunding Planned Parenthood. But this is a false dichotomy. Many of the leading Tea Party figures in the House—notably Tea Party Caucus leader Michele Bachmann—were heroines of the religious right long before the Tea Party even emerged as a movement. If other spending cuts emerged victorious over cutting Title X spending in this round, it doesn’t mean the House social conservatives (who also favor overall and deep spending cuts) will pack up and give up. It means they will find another avenue at another time.

As the Public Religion Research Institute poll released last fall demonstrated, there is a “significantly outsized proportion of white evangelical Christians in the Tea Party movement.” Earlier this year, the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life released a poll which found that white evangelicals—44% of them—were the religious group most likely to agree with the Tea Party agenda, and least likely to disagree (8%). As PRRI president Robert Jones has noted, more than half of the 81% of Tea Partiers who identify as Christian also report engagement in religious right political activism.

According to the PRRI survey, 63% percent of Tea Party adherents believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. According to the Pew survey, “almost six-in-ten (59%) of those who agree with the Tea Party say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 17 percentage points higher than among all registered voters.” Indeed Tea Partiers are even more conservative, and more wedded to a religious argument against abortion than Republicans as a whole, with 46% of Tea Party adherents citing religion as the prime influence on their abortion views, compared to 40% of Republicans.

3. Republicans and anti-choice activists are unabashed about lying about Planned Parenthood.

While defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t about abortion funding—the Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds from paying for abortions for three decades—the anti-Planned Parenthood crusaders falsely portray Planned Parenthood’s main mission as abortion, and frequently refer to it as an “abortion mill.” Last week on the Senate floor, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona falsely stated that abortion constituted “well over 90%” of Planned Parenthood’s services. When confronted with the correct percentage—a mere three—Kyl told CNN that “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement,” according to Think Progress. Kyl’s cavalier use of false information, and correspondingly cavalier excuse for using it, is a hallmark of the right’s attack on Planned Parenthood. The right has lionized Lila Rose, producer of the anti-Planned Parenthood agitprop which is based on lies and deception. Indeed Rose is lauded for advancing a “Christian worldview.”

In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Title X, the funding the Republicans seek to end, is “vital to achieving important public health goals by helping millions of young and economically disadvantaged American women prevent unintended pregnancies.In 2008, the contraceptive services provided to 4.7 million women by Title X helped “avoid 973,000 unintended pregnancies, which would have resulted in 433,000 unplanned births and 406,000 abortions. Without these services, unintended pregnancy and abortion in the United States would be one-third higher. And by helping women avoid unintended pregnancies, Title X–supported family planning centers saved taxpayers $3.4 billion in 2008—or $3.74 for every $1 spent on contraceptive care.”

4. Defunding Planned Parenthood satisfies the anti-choice base, but also a more religiously radical part of the base.

While Republicans and anti-choice activists frequently falsely claim that Planned Parenthood’s principal mission is performing abortions (in fact 97% of its services are family planning, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and other medical care), they also suggest that Planned Parenthood should be deprived of federal funding for non-abortion services merely because it does perform abortions. Alternatively, they argue that ending its funding would deprive it of its ability to peform abortions, demonstrating that the right’s goal for Planned Parenthood is similar to its goal for ACORN: shutting it down. But beneath these rationales for ending Title X funding for Planned Parenthood is a deeper, religiously motivated goal: ending federal funding for an organization which provides contraceptives, and in particular contraceptives for unmarried people.

Although the Catholic Church officially prohibits the use of contraceptives even for married couples, the National Association of Evangelicals last year published a paper which deemed contraceptive use acceptable for married couples, but (because it opposes sex outside of marriage) not for unmarried couples. But the religious right promotes significant activism, as varied as pseudo-academic papers and popular culture, against the use of contraception even by married couples. The Howard Center on Family, Religion, and Society, a religious right think tank, has called contraception a “war on U.S. fertility,” portraying it as crucial step in the decline of western civilization. The Duggars, of TLC’s reality show 19 Kids and Counting, have been mainstreamed both by TLC’s positive portrayal of their contraceptive-free lifestyle, and by religious right political organizations that depict them as models of American family life. Followers of the biblical patriarchy movement and controversial evangelist Bill Gothard, the Duggars claim that early in their marriage, Michelle got pregnant while on the Pill, and that the Pill also caused a miscarriage of that pregnancy. That claim promotes two religious right myths about the Pill: that it not only doesn’t work, but it actually causes harm. Now, instead of using contraceptives, the Duggars say they just “obey” God.

Depictions of the “defund Planned Parenthood” movement as being about “abortion funding” are not only inaccurate, but obscure how the Republican base is made up of activists who, on religious grounds, oppose legal access to abortion and access to contraception.

5. With much of the anti-choice legislative activity taking place at the state level, Republican presidential candidates will need a federal issue to make a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Most of the significant legislative activity restricting access to abortion and reproductive health services is taking place at the state level. The Republican presidential candidates, as well as Senate and Congressional candidates in 2012, will need a goal that can be accomplished at the federal level to prove their commitment to the increasingly restrictive agenda of the anti-choice movement. If they do not succeed in defunding Planned Parenthood in this Congressional session—and surely they will not with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House—they will need a rallying cry to motivate the base to work to regain control of the Senate and White House in 2012.