Recently Planned Parenthood has been put center stage politically. They’ve been mentioned multiple times in both of the Republican debates and on Tuesday there was a lengthy congressional hearing devoted to them. This debate has been around for decades. It is heated now because of a series of videos that Carly Fiorina spoke passionately on in the CNN debate. These videos have been widely debunked at this point. What I want to focus on is the idea that Republicans are actually interested in preventing abortions.
First I want to look at a time when the Republicans had the ability to do something about abortion. Right now you’ll hear the claim that Republicans want to change all the laws, but the president would veto anything. That certainly wasn’t always the case. Let’s look at the 2000-2008 Bush presidency. From 1995-2007 Republicans were the majority in both the house and the senate. During that time the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was William Rehnquist. When Rehnquist died in 2005 the headlines about him were about how he, “shaped high court conservatism.” Republicans right now can say they want to change things, but they had the opportunity for five years to have the presidency, the supreme court, the house, and the senate. Do you remember any national abortion legislation passed during that time?
Six years ago Colorado started an incredible experiment. If women were given free long term birth control, would they use it, and what impact would that have on certain metrics. The answers were yes and a gigantic one. Between 2009 and 2013 the teenage birthrate in Colorado dropped by 40% while the abortion rate dropped 42%.  These numbers were most pronounced in the cities most affected by poverty. Sounds like a huge success right? Particularly if you were someone who was against abortions, this seems like a program that should be expanded nationwide.
The program had been funded by a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The money from the program was going to run out though, so a bill was going to go before the state legislature to continue funding this program. It was blocked in committee by a 3-2 vote that went exactly down party lines. All three Republicans decided that this wasn’t worth extending. Abortions weren’t worth preventing. One of them made the comment during the hearing, “Are we communicating anything in that message [of providing contraception] that says ‘you don’t have to worry, you’re covered’? Does that allow a lot of young ladies to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places, as the old song goes?”
As far as I can tell the Republicans don’t actually want to reduce abortions otherwise they would have done something about it from 2000-2005 or would have agreed to further fund programs that were proven to have nearly cut abortion rates in half.
If we discount actually reducing abortion rates, I can only think of two underlying factors for the Republican attacks against Planned Parenthood. These two things are not mutually exclusive. The first is the, admittedly quite cynical, idea that Republicans don’t actually care about abortion at all. The second, much more realistic, idea is that what they actually hate is sex but it’s not popular to be against sex, so the goal is to make sex have as many consequences as possible.
Think back to the previous presidential election cycles. Abortion was certainly mentioned, but it wasn’t the main focus of the culture clash like it seems to be now. Instead marriage equality was the main issue, but since then the supreme court has made a ruling that has settled it in the eyes of the law. Roe v Wade did the same thing for abortion rights, but there is a big difference. Public opinion has been moving towards marriage equality for the last twenty years, flipping from 68%-27% against in 1996 to 60%-37% in favor of in 2015. This is not the case with abortion.
As you can see, opinions have pretty much held steady for the last forty years. The only time marriage equality was brought up at the two Republican debates was in respect to Kim Davis. Despite all the passion they claimed to have about it four years ago, about how marriage equality was an attack on the foundation of our country, now it’s barely a footnote and suddenly abortion is the issue that they’ve always cared about. This works because abortion is a much move divisive topic than marriage equality is now days.
My point is I think Republicans care about abortion more because of the opinion polls than about any personal belief. You might rightly say that government should be responding to the needs of the people, but it does put their passion for the subject in a different light.
The other idea, and remember these are not mutually exclusive, is the idea that Republicans are actually against sex. The quote from the Colorado Republican earlier hints at it quite heavily, but there’s another recent case from the last ten years that furthers this notion. The Gardisil vaccine was approved by the FDA in June of 2006 for the prevention of multiple strains of HPV that have been linked to cervical cancer in women. This vaccine has vocal opponents among the ranks of Republicans. The idea was that if women felt safe from HPV then they might have sex, similar to the idea that if women feel like if they have options if an unplanned pregnancy occurs then they might have sex.
Saying, “I hate sex,” isn’t very popular though, so if you’re against it the next best thing is to make certain anyone who has it must face serious consequences. According to Republicans you should be afraid of STDs, cancer, and unplanned pregnancies. We live in a world where you don’t have to fear these things. The Gardisil vaccine is available and long term birth control has been proven effective at lowering both teen birth rates and abortion rates.
If you’re against people having sex or having abortions that’s your right. I just want to make certain that when we’re having debates in this country we’re clear about what we’re all actually fighting for, and as far as I can tell the Republicans’ ultimate goals with their attacks on Planned Parenthood don’t have anything to do with actually lowering the abortion rate.
As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.