It must be campaign season: the Republican Party is once again attacking Planned Parenthood. This current manufactured outrage moment was coordinated with the debunked video from a shadowy outfit whose “investigators” come complete with phony identification documents. [HuffPo] [DemoNW] Since the GOP seems to have nothing on offer regarding national infrastructure, comprehensive immigration policy reform, Middle East Peace negotiation, manufacturing policy, minimum wage levels, job training and education, or any substantive proposals on the expansion of health insurance coverage – it must be time to look for Distractions. And, what better distraction than Planned Parenthood?
These attacks appeal to the rabidly anti-contraception/abortion advocates in the Republican base. We can assume that this element is a small minority of the U.S. population because (1) more than 99% of women aged 15-44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. (2) Approximately 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method. (3) 83% of Black women, 91% of Hispanic women, and 90% of Asian women of child bearing age currently use a contraceptive method during intercourse. (4) 92% of all women with incomes of 300% or more of the federal poverty standard are currently using contraception, as are 89% of those with incomes at 0-149% of the poverty line. [Guttmacher]
As the statistical reports, and the chart, demonstrate, those who oppose contraception are a definite minority, and the religious argument begins to unravel when another survey is highlighted: “Some 68% of Catholics, 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals who are at risk of unintended pregnancy use a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).” [Guttmacher]
As with the polling and survey reports on contraception, the polling on the abortion issue also illuminates the minority position of the radical anti-abortionists. Note the trends reported by Gallup:
It doesn’t even require a calculator to see that as of 2015 approximately 80% of the U.S. population believes that abortion is acceptable, at least under some circumstances. Only 19% believe the medical procedure should be illegal in any situation. [Gallup]
Thus we have circumstances in which 99% of those women who have had sexual intercourse using some form of contraception, and 80% of the nation believing that under some circumstances (usually involving the welfare of the mother) abortion procedures should be legal. Why would a major political party attempt to use contraception/abortion as a political issue?
If it worked before – it will work again? Republicans have utilized “wedge issues” with some effect before – gay marriage, gun safety, contraception/abortion. And, Thomas Frank’s book concluded:
“…the Republicans use social issues in a bait-and-switch routine: people are enticed into voting Republican over social issues like abortion or gay marriage, and then Republican pols, once elected, ignore all that and govern like the pro-business, rich-people’s party that they are at heart.” [Atlantic]
The problem for Republicans is that while they are the pro-corporate (not small business) party of the hedge fund managers and the large banks, the bait is becoming harder to find. Therefore the need to find another way to access the anti-contraception/abortion vote – let’s try fetal tissue research!
The GOP has two problems with this wrinkle – first, they were for it before they were against it. [Think Progress] and secondly, who wants to argue that fetal tissue should be turned into medical waste instead of having the family opt for tissue donation for medical research?
Nor is fetal tissue medical research a new thing – it’s been done since the 1930s, and the 1954 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded for work with fetal tissue that lead to the development of the polio vaccine. [USNWR] Current work with fetal tissue involves studies related to birth defects, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s Disease, eye diseases, and HIV/AIDS. [Reuters] Fetal tissue research also yielded vaccines for chicken pox, rubella, and shingles. [CNN] If one is truly “pro-life” in the comprehensive meaning of the term, then the research into finding a vaccine for rubella is instructive:
“From 1964-1965, before the development of a vaccine against the disease, a rubella epidemic swept the United States. During that short period there were 12.5 million cases of rubella. Twenty thousand children were born with CRS: 11,000 were deaf, 3,500 blind, and 1,800 mentally retarded. There were 2,100 neonatal deaths and more than 11,000 abortions – some a spontaneous result of rubella infection in the mother, and others performed surgically after women were informed of the serious risks of rubella exposure during their pregnancy.” (CRS = Congenital Rubella Syndrome) [HistVac]
Interesting isn’t it: The use of fetal tissue in medical research to develop a vaccine against Rubella meant FEWER abortions (both natural and medical) and 2,100 fewer neo-natal deaths. OK, now stand at a podium and tell the voters that you are in favor of bringing all fetal tissue research to a grinding halt even if it means more miscarriages and abortions? In the name of “Life?” There’s a purpose for fetal tissue research at the other end of the age spectrum:
“Stem cell therapy for retinal disease is under way, and several clinical trials are currently recruiting. These trials use human embryonic, foetal and umbilical cord tissue-derived stem cells and bone marrow-derived stem cells to treat visual disorders such as age-related macular degeneration, Stargardt’s disease and retinitis pigmentosa. Over a decade of analysing the developmental cues involved in retinal generation and stem cell biology, coupled with extensive surgical research, have yielded differing cellular approaches to tackle these retinopathies…” [NCBI]
The radical anti-abortionists haven’t mentioned the research into how to attack the 2.7 million cases of macular degeneration in the U.S. [NEI] Do we dare tell them that most of those cases are among Caucasian Americans?
And, here we have it: attacks on an organization, often the target of radical anti-abortionists, which lawfully provides fetal tissue to medical research facilities currently working on ways to prevent, cure, or alleviate diseases prevalent in America, many of which are deadly (ALS, Parkinson’s) or debilitating (macular degeneration). All for what?
For an issue most Americans don’t have at the top of their priorities?
To attract 21% of the respondents in the 2015 polling? To appease those for whom family planning is anathema? Nothing better illustrates the hold over the Republican Party like its pandering to a small minority in the national audience, a minority like Quiverfull (see Duggars), for whom women are merely the instruments of men’s procreation? To appeal to those who follow the Army of God manual and bomb abortion clinics or kill providers? To address those ignorant enough to miss the connections between significant medical research and the use of fetal tissue?
Or, to appeal to those who firmly believe that the Little Woman should be barefoot and pregnant – in the kitchen – not the Senate or the House. Families which plan for their children, which can assume two incomes, which can maintain intimacy without unintended pregnancies, and who can afford the $3500 it costs for the average uncomplicated birth of a child in a hospital [Parents] are generally better off, and so are their kids. Here we hit the rough patch.
Planning is Everything. It’s impossible to attack those families which are practicing birth control for rational reasons — in the face of irrationality. Critics of social welfare programs offer, “If you can’t afford them then you shouldn’t have them.” If we accept this criticism, then what rational premise might one have for defunding the organization which promotes responsible parenting by making contraception available?
However, “If you give’em birth control they’ll just be promiscuous!” Notice the emphasis is on the female, “boys will be boys.” It’s hard to separate this attitude from good old fashioned garden variety misogyny. If we actually want fewer unplanned pregnancies, especially among younger women, then what is the rational argument for cutting funding for clinics like those sponsored by Planned Parenthood which inform young women about contraceptive options?
Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s medical procedures involve abortion at any stage and in any manner. For the radicals this is 3% too many. For the deluded among us – every woman must carry every pregnancy to term, no matter the cost to her physical well being or to her mental health. Every pregnancy must end in a birth – even if the fetus is so badly deformed that it won’t survive outside the womb for more than 24 hours? How many of the radicals are even aware of anencephaly, exomphalos and gastroschisis? [Patient] Pre-natal care is required in order to detect abnormalities like anencephaly, and where do women – especially low income women – get pre-natal care? From their local Planned Parenthood clinic. Which, we should add, provides pre-natal care for the pregnancies, planned or unplanned, of many middle and lower income women.
If the Republicans who are chanting for Investigations! Funding Cuts! and other assaults on Planned Parenthood understood just how ridiculous they sound, and how close to the radicals associated with the Army of God and the Quiverfull movement they’ve moved, then they’d have a much better grasp as to how counter-productive their shift to the radical right will be received in a general election. In their attempt to manufacture another “crisis” in “poutrage” and to generate a wedge issue, they’ve only succeeded in forming alliances with the most misogynistic elements of the Right Wing: Those who neither want nor countenance Planning in family relationships.