Without getting into the specifics of the latest Planned Parenthood hoax (the background of which is efficiently dealt with in this piece by Eli Clifton and Amanda Marcotte in The Nation) or the lies it's based upon (the details of which are amply dealt with in this post by Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress), it suffices to say that I think these phony "stings" -- designed to stoke outrage on the right and give Democrats nightmares trying to discuss complex moral issues in response -- are a sign of a dysfunctional political environment.
This doesn't just happen with abortion rights -- climate change is similarly difficult to deal with -- but when it comes to reproductive issues, the more lurid the charge, the greater motivation for tepid defenders to capitulate. Hopefully, progressives are aware by now that reproductive rights have been under relentless attacks in the states for a number of years now and it's becoming critical. As Salon's Jenny Kuttner wrote back at the beginning of the year:
A recent report from the reproductive rights research group finds that in the time since the 2010 midterm elections, states have adopted well over 200 abortion restrictions — 231, to be precise — out of 335 proposed provisions. In comparison, just 95 measures to expand or protect abortion access were introduced in the same time period; while that’s the most positive measures for two decades, it still hardly compares to the rising number of restrictions on access. In 2014 alone, lawmakers in 15 states enacted 26 new abortion restrictions — and the state legislatures in places such as Texas and North Dakota weren’t even in session. [...]
Guttmacher also notes that the number of states considered “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights has also skyrocketed, as well as the proportion of women living in hostile states. In 2000, just 31 percent of American women lived in states that were considered to be hostile — places with four or five restrictions on abortion — and none lived in states that were extremely hostile — states with six or more restrictions. By the end of last year, 57 percent of women lived in states that were either hostile or extremely hostile. The entire South is now considered to be, at the very least, a hostile place for abortion rights.
This attack on Planned Parenthood is just the latest skirmish in the long abortion-rights war in this country. And it appears to have been coordinated (or at least with the knowledge of) Republicans in Congress. At least two members of the Pro-Life Caucus in the House admitted to CQ Roll Call that they were aware of what this group was planning. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az) said that he knew about the video a month ago but was waiting to get all the information in place so he could alert the authorities before the media. And Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said he saw the video weeks ago and then backtracked saying “this interview didn’t happen.” His spokesman later said that he wanted to do his "due diligence" before he investigated on his own. If they truly believe a crime was being committed, they had an obligation to inform the authorities immediately. The fact that they didn't indicates that this is a partisan political act designed to stoke enough public outcry to defund Planned Parenthood.
Indeed, there was at least one "loose lipped" Congressman who couldn't keep their clever plan to himself:
When the speaker opens up on it, and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee opens up, that means that the members who want to move on this, they’ve got license now,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said. “It isn’t like me pushing a rock uphill like Sisyphus. It’s the other way around. This is a downhill roll. [...]
King, for example, was one of the first lawmakers to urge the defunding of low-income housing group ACORN, which went belly up following similar undercover videos suggesting criminal activity.
To this day, he keeps a tiny acorn in his pocket to remember his crusade. Now, he’s got his eyes on another organization.
“This represents ACORN’s scalp,” King said off the House floor Thursday, pulling the acorn out of his pocket. “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.”
One would think that Democrats would never go along with the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, since the ramifications for millions of low income women would be so dire. But the ACORN precedent is instructive. When those doctored videos were released, the Democrats had a majority in congress and the first African American president had just been elected. And ACORN was not just another community organizing institution, it was essential to voter outreach among an important Democratic Party constituency. Yet the Democrats in Congress simply crumbled like a cookie made with way too much white flour.
(The GOP enjoyed doing it so much they kept "defunding" it year after year, despite the fact that it didn't exist.)
You can certainly understand why the Republican Congress might be encouraged to think they could do the same thing to Planned Parenthood, especially if the Democrats happen to get the first woman elected to the presidency. This is how they keep the faith. But that does not mean that the Republican presidential candidates aren't equal to the job of Commander in Chief of the war on women if they get the chance. Every single one of them is an unreconstructed culture warrior when it comes to women's rights. Even the alleged freedom fighter Rand Paul believes that individual liberty is sacrosanct and private property is inviolable except when it comes to women controlling their own reproduction or owning their own bodies. He'll be leading the charge in the Senate:
The Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate released multiple statements Friday promising to use “all legislative vehicles” to “defeat and defund Planned Parenthood” next week. The statements on his Senate and campaign websites don’t directly mention the pending highway and transit legislation, but it is the next big-ticket item on the Senate’s to-do list.
Senator Marco Rubio said that he would be fighting by his side: "I'm proud that one of my first actions in the Senate was voting to defund this organization." The allegedly "mainstream" dreamboat Scott Walker is more restrictive on abortion than any GOP president in history, so there's little doubt that he'll be happy to follow through if this push fails but a Republican somehow makes it to the White House.
After the big "autopsy" of the last election, the important people in the Party decided that some politicians' and pundits' unfortunate propensity to deride women as sluts for using birth control, or to proclaim that "some girls rape easy," wasn't really working for them. The idea was that they would take a more measured approach toward women's rights.
One would think that Big Money Jeb would be the candidate most likely to carry out that vision, but he seems to be going with the clown car on this. He jumped on the Planned Parenthood story with the same hyperbolic language, tweeting "this is a shocking and horrific reminder that we must do so much more to foster a culture of life in America." He also believes in a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and supports the junk science based "Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act". The only reason he's considered a "moderate" in the field on these issues is that while he believes that abortion should be banned altogether, he still thinks that there should be an exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. That's now the official "compromise" position.
And the reason that the establishment believes Bush is able to make that heroic moderate compromise without losing his credibility with the pro-life crowd is because he showed he was eager to unilaterally use his power as governor of Florida to enforce his pro-life views in the Terry Schiavo case against the wishes of her husband, her doctors, the courts and the law. He even persuaded his brother, the president, to do something unprecedented in his tenure: Fly back from his Crawford "ranch" in the middle of one of his endless vacations to sign a federal bill reinforcing his actions on the federal level. The anti-abortion activists don't forget that such tough executive actions on their behalf. (If anyone uses that power on someone's else's behalf it's tyranny, but that's another story.)
The Republicans recognized that their language and their attitudes on women's issues were destructive in the last couple of election cycles and suggested that politicians and pundits take a less insulting approach on the campaign trail. But the base is not happy with that and they seem to have shifted their strategy now that their guerilla hoaxters have provided them with some video they can use to put women's organizations on the defensive and set up another ACORN spectacle to de-fund another liberal backed institution. They are going to try to turn Planned Parenthood into the Democratic Party's Todd Akin. The only question is whether the Democrats will have the fortitude to resist.