What an embarrassing spectacle the attacks on (and sometimes the defense of) Planned Parenthood have become, regardless of their impact on government funding today or in the future. If Tuesday's House Republican assault on Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards and her organization proved anything, it's that facts are irrelevant and hypocrisy is abundant in this particular showdown.
Take for instance, Ms. Richards' five-hour grilling before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during which her GOP attackers showed little interest in listening to her responses but an extraordinary concern for her salary and organization's travel expenses. If those same lawmakers want to talk about CEO salaries — even if they just want to restrict them to companies that receive government funds, let alone hedge fund managers or Wall Street titans — let's have that hearing straight away, but it seemed more than a little ludicrous from tea party conservatives who usually want government to stay out of such matters.
Or then there was Maryland's own Rep. Andy Harris, who rose from the House floor to go on and on about how Planned Parenthood wasn't providing health care services in his district because the organization's Easton office was only open two days a week. Turns out the Easton clinic has been open five days a week since May when it merged with the now-shuttered Salisbury clinic, but perhaps Mr. Harris and his staff were too focused on demonizing Planned Parenthood then to pick up a phone and give them a call on behalf of their 1st District constituents.
Even the opposition's main argument — that Planned Parenthood sells fetal parts — is demonstrably false even if one bothers to look at the trumped-up videos that provided the launching point for these most recent attacks. As Ms. Richards testified, and various independent state-level investigations have so far corroborated, Planned Parenthood provides donated fetal tissue for medical research and is reimbursed only for transportation and administrative costs as provided for under federal law. No wrongdoing has been documented — period.
Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Planned Parenthood is not centered on enabling fetal tissue donations, it's about providing health care to an estimated 2.7 million men and women. Again, as Ms. Richards pointed out to the committee, only about 1 percent of the organization's health centers even offer such tissue donations.
Making these attacks on Planned Parenthood (whose main source of federal money is simply Medicaid reimbursements for medical treatment) all the more absurd are the consequences of a loss in federal funding for contraceptives and other women's reproductive health services — in all likelihood, it means more abortions, not fewer, a point reaffirmed earlier this year by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
If it's the intent of lawmakers to reduce abortions, there's a far more sensible path available to them, and it surely doesn't require threatening to shutter the federal government. As a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute points out, the number of abortions declines as more women are covered by health insurance. Get all states to accept the Medicaid expansion made possible by the Affordable Care Act, and millions more women age 15-44 could afford decent health care, including oral contraceptive pills and other preventive measures.
But lowering the abortion rate isn't what critics want, they want a public brawl that will stir up their political base, amp up the rhetoric and loosen donor purse strings. And, of course, many Democrats are only too willing to comply because defending women's reproductive rights offers them the same political benefits. That Planned Parenthood's most ardent supporters are often among the most loyal soldiers in Democratic political campaigns (the organization even has an affiliated political action committee) obviously plays a role in the debacle as well.
This gamesmanship was demonstrated closer to home as Republicans called on Gov. Larry Hogan this week to deny support for Planned Parenthood funding, and Democrats rallied to urge him to protect it — as if the non-profit had its own little line item in the state budget, which, incidentally, isn't due to be presented to the legislature for months yet. Mr. Hogan wisely chose not to comment on the matter Tuesday, his silence consistent with the nuanced position he took when he campaigned for office — opposed to abortion but willing to respect Maryland's status quo — as well, perhaps, with an awareness that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are simply not reality-based or worthy of any serious discussion.