Planned Parenthood Perilous Issue for GOPers, Even Without a Government Shutdown

One of the important things to keep in mind about the battle among Republicans over whether or not to risk or execute a government shutdown over the “defund Planned Parenthood” demands is that this is a fight over strategy and tactics, not goals or principles. If, for example, there is a single Republican presidential candidate who does not favor “defunding Planned Parenthood,” I’m not sure who that would be. And when a defunding vote in the shutdown-averse Senate happens tomorrow, I doubt more than one or two Republicans will oppose it.

This is important because Republicans who oppose the insanity of another government shutdown should not get too much credit for moderation. It seems Hillary Clinton understands this, because she and her campaign are going to a lot of trouble to defend Planned Parenthood’s essential role in women’s health and contraception services, not to mention the less controversial and unquestionably legal early-term abortions that represent nearly all of the procedures performed at some–by no means all–PP clinics. And as Greg Sargent notes this afternoon at the Plum Line, defending Planned Parenthood worked pretty well for Democrats in 2012:

After all, Obama used it in 2012, attacking Mitt Romney’s suggestion that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood to paint him as hidebound and out of touch on contraception and women’s health issues. Obama campaign focus groups found Romney’s remarks to be a terrible turnoff for undecided women.

That exchange unfolded without the benefit of a government shutdown fight over the group. The battle was only over whether Planned Parenthood should be funded. The shutdown aside, all the GOP candidates do favor defunding the group. A shutdown only draws more attention to an underlying dispute that the Clinton camp already appears to relish, as she is (of course) a female candidate who hopes to make this election in part about family and women’s economics.

To be sure, it’s certainly possible that the recently surfaced fetal tissue videos could turn this battle into a more perilous one for Clinton. But it’s also plausible that even if there is widespread public disgust over the videos and real polarization around abortion, shifting the debate to one over whether we should continue funding the group’s family planning, women’s health and contraceptive services won’t be that hard to do.

And if Republicans do shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, or appear to be pandering to those demanding that they do so, they’ll look even further out of touch. As I’ve said before, this could very well be another Terri Schiavo Moment for the GOP, where the party’s big debts to the antichoice movement are called in. If it again entraps, say, Jeb Bush, that’s even more appropriate.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.