On some of the highest profile issues in the country, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. Republican strategists and pundits have wasted hours of breath and gallons of ink agonizing over their party’s nasty response to America’s growing acceptance of LGBT equality; and they’ve agonized ad nauseum about how they can win a larger share of the increasingly critical Latino vote even as their candidates reflexively attack immigrants.
In both cases, the party’s wise men are publicly flummoxed by how they can moderate the party’s image while still earning the support of the party’s radically conservative base. Party leaders even acquiesced in taking down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina… after popular outcry made it clear that the party would be held accountable for supporting the most public symbol of white supremacy.
And then there’s abortion.
When news last week spread of a video purporting to expose a plot by Planned Parenthood to profit by selling tissue of aborted fetuses (in fact, the video showed nothing of the sort) Republicans couldn’t wait to bash the organization. Speaker John Boehner, a Republican who would rate as radically conservative by any measure save comparison to his own caucus, raced to put out a statement staunchly condemning the video. The House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation. And Republican candidates outdid themselves lambasting Planned Parenthood. You can rest assured that cycle will repeat again this week as anti-choice activists release yet another shocking* (*not actually shocking) video revealing deceptively edited video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing tissue donation.
Of course, few paid attention to the video itself, or Planned Parenthood’s quick and thorough debunking. After all, Republicans’ goal has never been to expose the truth about Planned Parenthood. It’s to shut Planned Parenthood down, and the truth would only get in the way.
Throughout the GOP, it was clear that while their strategists might wince when candidates attack gay people as pedophiles or immigrants as rapists, sadly, bashing women never goes out of style. Apparently, they’re under the impression that since the party was able to score a victory in 2014 without reining in its anti-choice, anti-birth-control, anti-woman agenda, they have a free hand to play to their radical base.
That’s the wrong strategy for several reasons.
First, and most importantly: these political theatrics come at a cost to real people. There are already too few organizations providing comprehensive medical care to women, especially poor women and women in underserved communities. The team at Planned Parenthood is smart and dedicated. Many doctors and staff are subject to constant harassment and threats. And every minute they’re forced to spend responding to baseless political attacks is a minute that they can’t spend on their critical mission of serving women all across the country. That should make all of us very angry.
And second, Republicans attack women, and Planned Parenthood, at their own political peril. Recent polling showed that the number of Americans who identify as pro-choice recently surpassed those who identify themselves as pro-life for the first time in seven years. One in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life, and women voters have shown that, by and large, they don’t take kindly to these attacks. Republicans celebrating their chance to brand themselves as radically anti-choice may be able to score some short term political gain, but in the long run it’s a losing strategy.
Finally, the silver lining of these ugly dishonest attacks is that they provide an opportunity for all of us to remember and celebrate the immense contribution that Planned Parenthood has made to our country. As infuriating as these smears are, it’s inspiring to see people of every age, race and gender declare, online and in person, that they stand with Planned Parenthood. These occasional eruptions from the GOP and the far Right underscore the extent to which the lunatics are running the asylum in the Republican Party. And while they might not care about the consequences of their actions, a growing majority of Americans emphatically do.