Republicans had a grand opportunity this week to showcase what exactly Planned Parenthood does to operate as a $1.2 billion enterprise. Instead, they chose to grandstand and hector Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards about her $560,000 annual salary and first class air travel.
Why bother with Republicans if this is all they have to offer?
Aren’t all congressional hearings merely excuses for political speech-making? Often, that’s true. But sometimes, measured grandstanding and moderate hectoring paired with incisive questioning can serve a greater political and moral purpose.
Exposing the fraud that Planned Parenthood is an essential women’s health care provider would have been useful. So would showing that it’s just a national chain of abortion mills and birth control pill peddlers.
Instead, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sat red-faced as Planned Parenthood’s chief executive deftly vindicated her bloody business. “One in five women in this country has sought care from a Planned Parenthood health center,” Richards testified Tuesday.
In the loosest sense possible, that’s true. In reality, Planned Parenthood doesn’t do much in the way of prenatal care or cancer screenings. What it does, in fact, is help women get onto Medicaid, or refer them to other clinics that provide care at little or no cost.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who appeared as though he might burst a vein, fumbled a question about Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings. “We do not have mammogram machines at our health centers,” Richards said. “And we’ve never stated that we did.”
Not so! The last time Congress gestured in the direction of defunding Planned Parenthood, Richards went on CNN to warn that if her organization lost those precious federal funds, “millions of women are going to lose access, not to abortion services, to basic family planning, you know, mammograms …”
Perhaps she was speaking hypothetically. But Jordan was too busy hyperventilating to ask.
The truth is, Planned Parenthood’s bread and butter is abortions – about 330,000 a year, give or take, which accounts for 86 percent of its nongovernment revenue.
In the end, of course, Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to keep the government running and Planned Parenthood humming on $500 million a year.
Doubtless every one of the lawmakers who voted for the continuing budget resolution knew of recent polls by the Pew Research Center and CNN/Wall Street Journal that found two-thirds of Americans support leaving Planned Parenthood’s funding alone. Perhaps most of them missed the Marist/Knights of Columbus poll that found nearly 7 in 10 oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.
Federal law already prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions, of course. But Republicans seem to have forgotten that money is fungible. They’ve also forgotten one of the most important lessons of their party’s first and greatest statesmen.
“In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything,” Abraham Lincoln said. “With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”
Carly Fiorina gets it. I don’t know about Fiorina as a presidential candidate. But she is masterful with her critics in the press and on the campaign trial. At a campaign stop in Iowa the other day, a group of classy Planned Parenthood supporters pelted Fiorina with condoms. Later, one protester demanded, “How can you as a woman not support our health care?”
Fiorina didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, I support your health care,” she replied. “I don’t support butchering babies.”
Not a single Republican on Tuesday’s panel had the wit or the insight to make that simple, devastating point. Not one.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.