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Pence v. Planned Parenthood

The campaign to defund the country's largest abortion provider advances.

1:31 PM, Apr 13, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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One storyline to emerge from the 2011 budget deal is that social conservatives were really the ones who lost. 


"It’s a lousy deal for social conservatives," Slate's Dave Weigel wrote. Boehner's failure to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding was a "massive victory" for "the pro-choice movement."

But Planned Parenthood has received federal funding under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Was maintaining the status quo on this issue really much of a "victory," especially considering that Republicans control just half of Congress?

John Boehner may not have been able to get Harry Reid and President Obama to bend to his will on the Planned Parenthood rider. But the speaker of the House did effectively use the issue to get Obama to give in on reinstating the ban on taxpayer-funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients in Washington, D.C. "John, I will give you D.C. I'm not happy about it," Obama told Boehner, according to a presidential aide who was in the Oval Office. 

That deal has been tolerable for pro-lifers. Most seemed to know all along that the Planned Parenthood rider had about as much chance of passing as did the rider to defund the president's signature health care law. Even stalwart social conservative Mike Huckabee urged fellow Republicans to cut a deal on Friday.  "Nobody's more pro-life than me. Nobody," Huckabee said. "But as much as I want to see Planned Parenthood defunded, as much as I want to see NPR lose their funding, the reality is the president and the Senate are never gonna go along with that. So win the deal you can win and live to fight another day."

While voters are strongly opposed to taxpayer funding of abortion, the issue of federal funding for Planned Parenthood is more complicated. Democrats argue that the funds aren't technically, ever so technically, spent on abortion (more on that in a moment). And many Americans don't know that Planned Parenthood performs abortions. Letting the government shut down over Planned Parenthood would have been even trickier for Republicans because they had signed off on Bush-era budgets that included such funding. 

There was a good reason Republicans didn't try to defund Planned Parenthood during the Bush years: They didn't have the votes to do it. When Indiana Republican Mike Pence first offered his amendment in 2007 to ban funds from Title X, the federal contraception program, to Planned Parenthood, 18 members of the Republican House minority voted against it. This year, just 7 members of the Republican House majority voted against the Pence amendment.

In 2007, 7 Republican senators voted against the ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood (throw in Virginia's John Warner, who didn't vote, and 8 Republican senators were opposed). This time around, there will probably be five GOP votes against the ban: Murkowski (Ak.), Snowe (Maine), Collins (Maine), Kirk (Ill.), and Brown (Mass.).

Were it not for the efforts of Pence and pro-life groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, Republicans wouldn't be so unified and ready to defund Planned Parenthood the next time they control Congress and the White House.

By picking a fight, Pence allowed pro-lifers to pick apart a number of Planned Parenthood's talking points. For example, Planned Parenthood and its supporters claim that only 3 percent of its services are abortions (every pregnancy test and every birth control packet counts as a "service" in Planned Parenthood's accounting). Pro-lifers reply that that "3 percent" figure is incredibly misleading--it translates to more than 300,000 human beings aborted each year at Planned Parenthood clinics.

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