WASHINGTON – At this point Republicans may wish to consider aborting to protect the health of the party.
They have been going after Planned Parenthood over the past few months like so many Captain Ahabs. They threatened to shut down the government to defund the group. Their insistence on a Planned Parenthood showdown drove House Speaker John Boehner to resign. They’re about to appoint a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. The party’s presidential candidates have made Planned Parenthood a central part of the campaign, and House Republicans are manufacturing new legislative vehicles to cut off the group.
And what do they have to show for it?
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that Americans have a more favorable view of Planned Parenthood than of any other entity tested, including the Republican Party and presidential candidates. The group’s favorable/unfavorable impression, 47 percent to 31 percent, is actually up slightly from July. What’s more, 61 percent oppose eliminating federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Even among the 35 percent who support defunding, only 9 percent favor shutting down the government to do it.
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Yet House Republicans pressed ahead with their quest Tuesday, hauling Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for more than five hours of hectoring and finger-wagging about, among other things, her salary and the group’s travel expenses.
The hearing came about because of videos released in July purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was harvesting body parts from aborted fetuses for profit. In their memo announcing the hearing, committee Republicans proclaimed that the “disturbing content” of the recently released videos “raises questions about [Planned Parenthood’s] use of taxpayer funding.” But the videos turned out to be doctored, and committee Republicans declined Democrats’ requests to have the video maker, David Daleiden, appear before the panel. The committee didn’t get the full unedited videos, said Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, because of California court proceedings.
Two hours into the hearing, Chaffetz made the startling confession that “without the videos, we can’t have a good discussion about them.”
But we can shut down the federal government over them?
Dispensing with the videos, members of the panel got down to the larger purpose of the hearing: harassing Richards and her group.
Chaffetz flashed a chart on the screens showing that since 2010, the number of abortions at Planned Parenthood has surpassed the number of its “cancer screenings and prevention services.”
But no such shift occurred. The fine print on the chart showed that the number of abortions (327,000 in 2013) never came close to reaching the number of cancer screenings (935,573 in 2013) at any point.
The bogus graph didn’t seem to matter to Chaffetz, who drew the witness’ attention to the crossing lines showing abortions overtaking screenings.
Richards said the chart “absolutely does not reflect what’s happening.”
“I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports,” the chairman said.
In fact, the chart said the source was the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life – which Richards pointed out to Chaffetz.
“Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that,” the chairman said.
The truth? Planned Parenthood gets money for women’s birth control, STD screenings and the like, not abortions – which Richards calmly reminded her inquisitors.
Republicans tried to inoculate themselves against the inevitable “war on women” charges. Chaffetz admitted three Republican women to participate in the hearing (there is only one GOP woman on the panel) and he started his own remarks by emotionally invoking his wife’s work with breast-cancer patients. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., thought it helpful to say that “I’m wearing a pink tie in solidarity with women’s health issues.” The majority dodged an awkward moment when Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a pro-life lawmaker who, according to court records, encouraged his wife and mistress to have abortions, yielded his time to a colleague.
That colleague, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., told Richards “you’re profiting off death.” Likewise, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., proclaimed himself a “champion for the unborn,” while Walberg said “we’ve been brought into a frenzy and a concern about what happens to our babies.”
This would appear to justify Richards’ contention that the controversy “isn’t about Planned Parenthood. It’s about allowing women in this country … to make other decisions about their pregnancies.”
As if to confirm Richards’ suspicion, 28 minutes after the hearing ended, lawmakers went to the House floor to vote on legislation restricting abortion – for the 14th time this year.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.