This article first appeared online at Politico on April 15, 2011.
Planned Parenthood message war goes on
By Sarah Kliff & Jennifer Haberkorn
The battle over Planned Parenthood’s funding may be over in Congress, but a fierce messaging fight has just started over whether the Planned Parenthood debate is an abortion debate at all.
The measure to strip Planned Parenthood’s federal funding passed in the House but failed in the Senate Thursday, with five Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the group’s funding.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood on both sides of the aisle say the vote was, and will continue to be, an issue of protecting the preventive services Planned Parenthood provides. On the more politically volatile issue of abortion, however, they have stayed mum.
“Planned Parenthood plays an important role in providing services for women,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told POLITICO.
Collins voted in the group’s favor despite a complicated relationship with the organization. Planned Parenthood backed her in 2002, but aggressively supported her opponent in the 2008 election cycle.
“They provide thousands of cancer screenings every year and they provide family planning services for low-income and at-risk women and right now we do not have a system in place that would replace those vital services,” she said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also emphasized the preventive services Planned Parenthood provides, especially when she became the first Republican senator to break with the party line on the issue.
“Planned Parenthood has provided women throughout the U.S. with important family planning and contraceptive services as well as screening for breast and cervical cancers for low-income women,” she wrote in March in a constituent email obtained by POLITICO.
But as allies emphasize the preventive services Planned Parenthood provides, foes have stayed consistently on message as they highlight the group’s role as the largest abortion provider in the country.
“For every 33 pregnant women who walk into a Planned Parenthood, 32 receive an abortion,” Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) said on the House floor shortly before voting against Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), two anti-abortion stalwarts, arrived armed with charts to highlight the number of abortions performed by Planned Parenthood, with Smith claiming the group has performed 5.4 million abortions since its founding in 1927.
“Planned Parenthood received $1 million a day and performed about 1,000 abortions a day,” said Pence, who introduced the initial amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in the House Republicans’ budget.
The descriptions of Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider have not gone unnoticed by the group’s supporters. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) mocked Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) widely publicized remark that abortions made up 90 percent of the services that Planned Parenthood offers, which his office later said “was not intended to be a factual statement.”
“For my friends and colleagues, this is a factual statement,” Gillibrand said Thursday. “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.”
Advocacy ads split along similar lines, with Planned Parenthood and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List collectively pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertising campaigns that have dovetailed with congressional talking points and largely targeted Beltway audiences.
“Ninety-eight percent of Planned Parenthood’s services to pregnant women are abortion services,” the Susan B. Anthony List said in a recent $100,000 ad buy, which blanketed Washington in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote. “There is only money for Planned Parenthood in abortion services.”
And within moments of the Senate vote, anti-abortion rights groups were going after Planned Parenthood supporters along similar lines.
“Today’s vote was historic because for the first time the Senate was forced to go on record over whether they support using Americans’ tax dollars to support the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, a bloated, scandal-ridden abortion advocate,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. “But today’s vote made clear which senators care more about the interests of the politically influential abortion lobby than the lives and safety of American women and families.”
Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, has repeatedly highlighted the breakdown of services to women, of which 3 percent is abortion and the rest largely preventive care like pap smears and cancer screenings.
“Barring Planned Parenthood health centers from providing care through federal programs would cut off millions of American women from birth control, cancer screenings, HIV tests and other lifesaving care — and that’s unacceptable,” the group wrote in its most recent letter to grass-roots activists. They instruct supporters to call senators to say “you strongly urge your senator to vote no on the Pence Bill and any attempt to cut off funding for family planning.”
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 5:33 a.m. on April 15, 2011.