On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines to pass a bill that would repeal significant parts of Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood for a year. On the surface, the vote seems like a symbolic, essentially meaningless gesture: The White House has promised to veto the measure, and the Senate Republicans are well aware that they lack the supermajority necessary to overturn that veto. But according to women's health advocates, the vote is far from insignificant.
According to Donna Crane, the vice president of policy at NARAL, conservative politicians' anti–Planned Parenthood rhetoric contributes to a hostile, dangerous climate against reproductive health organizations. It's especially galling, she noted, that the vote came less than a week after a gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, wounding nine and killing three. Dear reportedly said "no more baby parts" to investigators, a reference to several deceptively edited videos released this summer that purported to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue—a claim Planned Parenthood has vehemently and repeatedly denied. In the following months, several Republican presidential candidates have parroted claims made in the videos, even though Planned Parenthood has since ended its fetal tissue donation program and even though every single investigation into the organization has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
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Senate Republicans were not deterred by the recent tragedy. "Individuals who speak out for the life of children shouldn't suddenly be silenced by being screamed down because an insane person does a shooting in a clinic," Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said on Wednesday, on the Senate floor.
Anti-choice politicians take no responsibility for contributing to an environment so filled with vitriol.
"I was not surprised but deeply saddened to see that the anti-choice politicians seem to have no awareness of what's happening in the world around them. [They] take no responsibility for contributing to an environment so filled with vitriol that it was not hard for any of us to predict the violence that happened on Friday," Crane told Broadly.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president Dawn Laguens similarly decried the Senate's callous lack of awareness. "It seems implausible that less than a week after a tragic shooting at the Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs some in Washington chose politics over compassion," she wrote.
The bill would block federal funding to Planned Parenthood for a year and redirect it to other community health centers, something Crane said would hurt the millions of patients who rely on the reproductive health organization. She said, "Politicians claim to be wanting to hurt Planned Parenthood, but what they're really doing is hurting patients when the government has set up these healthcare programs and now tells them, 'Oh, but you can't see the doctor that you want to see. You can't go to the clinic that you know, where you feel comfortable. You can't choose the health center you want because we, the government, have decided that these doors are now closed.'"
Since this summer, Congress has tried seven times to cut Planned Parenthood's federal funding; each time, it has been unsuccessful. Despite the GOP's continued failure to successfully cut the reproductive health organization's funding, and despite widespread public approval of Planned Parenthood and the work it does, Crane warned that this sort of action is still very harmful. "The drum beat matters. The way it contributes harmfully to the environment and the public debate matters, and we can't forever count on the fact that a pro-choice president is in office," she said.
Politicians claim to be wanting to hurt Planned Parenthood, but what they're really doing is hurting patients.
Planned Parenthood provides millions of men, women, and children with STI testing, contraception, and cancer screening and prevention services per year; abortion care makes up just three percent of their services. According to Crane, defunding Planned Parenthood will disproportionately harm low-income women around the country. "Planned Parenthood is unique among the safety clinics insofar as it's dedicated to women's heath first and foremost, and it gives excellent, excellent, high-quality care for women who can't afford or don't have access to a private doctor," she said.
Despite the steady stream of attacks on Planned Parenthood, the group has no intention of stopping its work. "While politicians in Congress are right back at it attacking women's health, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims who were killed or injured last week," said Laguens. "We're focused on providing high-quality, compassionate health care to people all across this country, and we won't be deterred by violence, smear campaigns, or cynical political attacks like this."