Remember when Republicans used to like Planned Parenthood? When it was championed by GOP leaders like Barry Goldwater and George H.W. Bush?

Well, forget it. Helping low-income families with preventive health care needs has become a right-wing cause for the Republican Party, apparently at multiple levels. In states where GOP candidates excelled in the 2010 elections, officials are targeting Planned Parenthood, and the crusade appears to be intensifying in Congress.*

House Republicans have opened a sweeping investigation into Planned Parenthood, requesting reams of financial information and details on how the women’s health organization keeps federal funds separate from abortion services.

House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) sent Planned Parenthood a six-page letter earlier this month detailing the committee’s request. House Republicans have repeatedly tried to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding because it provides abortions, even though federal funds are not used for those services.

“The Committee has questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken by PPFA and its affiliates relating to its use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on the funding of abortion,” the letter said.

Federal law already prohibits federal funds from being used to terminate pregnancies. There’s no evidence Planned Parenthood is ignoring this legal prohibition, and the organization’s programs are already regularly audited by the HHS inspector general and state Medicaid programs. Congressional Republicans are pursuing this anyway, just to see what they might be able to turn up.

Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) sent a letter to Stearns asking whether Planned Parenthood is being “singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men.”

You think?

By way of background, it’s worth noting that Stearns signaled his intentions on this front in June, responding to dubious allegations raised by a far right-wing anti-abortion group. Americans United for Life, which is pushing for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

Raise your hand if you think there’s any chance at all that Planned Parenthood will get a dime of federal funds if there’s a Republican Congress and a Republican White House in 2013.

* link edited

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.