Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Far Right's Attack on Planned Parenthood

By Alex GoldsteinPublished October 22, 2015

Since President Obama took office in 2009, the far right of the Republican Party has grown increasingly powerful and unwilling to compromise. Their recent attacks on Planned Parenthood and threats to shut down the government reveal a party that has grown out of touch with the fundamental realities of American politics.

Early Friday morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner, shocked Congress and the American people alike with his announcement that he will resign from Congress and the Speakership by the end of October.  Facing increasing pressure from the far right of the Republican Party, Boehner was confronted with the decision of whether to once again hold the government hostage in order to achieve a sought after conservative goal, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, or to oppose the increasingly powerful far right segment of his party and vote to approve funding for the organization. The Planned Parenthood dispute, which has propelled itself into the national spotlight in recent months, reflects a tenure as Speaker that has been plagued by stalemate and ineffectiveness.  While Boehner has claimed that his decision to resign is because his “prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution,” it seems likely that the pressure of the Planned Parenthood debacle, and the stress of his past four years as Speaker, in which Congress proved itself as the least productive of all time, have pushed him over the edge.  Through years of ineffective legislating in Congress, the recent Planned Parenthood debacle provides a pertinent example of the ways in which the Republican Party has become increasingly detached from the political process.

     The struggle over funding for Planned Parenthood represents another step in the effort “to strip away women’s rights to make choices over [their] own bodies,” in the words of Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren.  On Friday, September 18th, House Republicans passed a measure, effectively ending funding for Planned Parenthood for the following year.  And while the concept of defunding a program that provides necessary medical services to over 2.7 million men and women yearly seems counterproductive, the true immaturity of today’s Republican party is revealed through their desire to turn this dispute into a political offensive. 

     Despite the fact that Senate Democrats have the numbers to block such a bill and the fact that President Obama has already announced that he will veto any bill to defund the organization, House Republicans have voiced their support for a government shutdown in the event that a bill is not approved.  A government shutdown will not be effective in achieving Republican goals and, if anything, will waste huge amounts of taxpayer money, further damaging the already abysmal reputation of Washington politics.  The government shutdown of 2013, which “cost the economy somewhere around $24 billion”, proved that hijacking the government with goals that are impossible to accomplish, serves to hurt not only the institution of government, but also the American perception of the institution.  According to a Gallup survey conducted in June of 2015, only 8% of the American people trust Congress a “Great deal” or “Quite a lot.” 

     Perhaps the high rates of distrust, particularly among Republican voters, has contributed to the meteoric rise of outsiders in the 2016 Republican primaries with figures like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson pushing to the tops of the polls.  People should take the rise of such under qualified “politicians” as a warning for what may come to be if the confidence of the American electorate in the political establishment continues to waiver.  Threatening another government shutdown is no way to restore the American people’s faith in Washington.  The blame for these reckless actions must fall on those responsible.  Last week, a fellow Republican Congressman, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, referring to the dozens of Republicans making up this far-right coalition, stated, “not only do they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead, but they undermine the entire Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself.”  Even John Boehner, typically a conservative Republican, understood the potential disaster of another government shutdown and tried to avoid the results of such unnecessary partisan bickering.  It is less likely that his probable replacement, Kevin McCarthy of California, will share this stance on the Planned Parenthood debate.

     While the frustration towards the Republican Party stems from their use of politics to increase partisanship and threaten the operations of government any time things do not go their way, the proposals to defund this organization in particular are also disturbing from a medical and ethical perspective.  Using doctored videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from the sale of the tissue of aborted fetuses, Republican politicians from Ted Cruz to Carly Fiorina have cajoled the American people to discontinue their support for the organization.  Despite the fact that a committee to investigate the videos has concluded that they were manipulated, Republican politicians have continued to use such videos as primary reason to defund the organization. In reality, only 3 percent of the organization’s services cover abortion services, while a vast majority of services deal with STD testing and treatment, Contraception, Cancer Screenings, and other health services
     The reality is that Planned Parenthood is a completely legal and fully functional organization that provides healthcare to those who often do not have access to such services and need them the most.  However, for the dominant portion of a party that refuses to acknowledge the facts, this line of reasoning may be as counterproductive as the proposed government shutdown itself.  Even if Planned Parenthood survives this round of voting, Congress and the American people will soon have to deal with an increasingly extremist right wing of the Republican Party that actively seeks to remove any members that support compromising with the Democrats.