The Elaborate Charades Of The Planned Parenthood Defunding Debate

Yesterday, the House voted, in an entirely theatrical move, to defund Planned Parenthood. Since last week's budget agreement already ensured that Planned Parenthood would keep the funding it gets for non-abortion health services and everyone expected that it would die in the Senate, they were essentially wasting legislative time to make a point.

Die in the Senate it did, with a handful of Republican votes: Senators Olympia Snowe, (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), Scott Brown (Massachusetts) and Mark Kirk (Illinois).

It was another moment for House Republicans to link Planned Parenthood to the evils of (safe, legal) abortion. "For every 33 pregnant women who walk into a Planned Parenthood, 32 receive an abortion," Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt said on the House floor.

It was also an opportunity to at least try to set them straight. Said New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: "For my friends and colleagues, this is a factual statement. Current law already prevents federal money from paying for abortions. This has been the law of the land for over 30 years. Shutting down the government for a political argument is not only outrageous, it is irresponsible. The price for keeping the government open is this assault on women's rights." (Also the law of the land: constitutionally-protected right to an abortion. Funny how everyone forgets that.)

Gillibrand, of course, was referring to Senator Jon Kyl's press people's infamous statement after he said over 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortion when the actual number is three — that it was "not intended to be a factual statement." Kyl recently told Politico that "That was not me — that was my press person." Hired and authorized by whom, exactly? Gail Collins pointed out yesterday, "Next year, Kyl is retiring from the Senate and returning to the private sector, where he will have leisure to contemplate that this was the single moment of his public career for which he became nationally famous." May he live in infamy.

It's been fun to mock Kyl, particularly in light of a short-term victory on Planned Parenthood. But it's premature to celebrate. Unfortunately, House Republicans have managed to set the agenda and re-inject abortion politics into a debate over the fiscal future of the country. Overall, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt expressed some skepticism about the final plan, not just because of how it harmed women in Washington D.C.:

In a tiny footnote, the final budget cuts Title X, the federal family-planning program, by $17 million. What women "got" was only that one of three bad possibilities didn't happen. You have to hand it to the Republicans: even when they lose, they win.

Not to mention the fact that we'll have to re-argue this in six months.

Kyl: I 'Misspoke' On Planned Parenthood [Politico]
Planned Parenthood Message War Goes On [Politico]
On Choice, Family Planning, Healthcare, Women Lose Out-Again [The Nation]
Behind The Abortion War [NYT]