The GOP's despicable pregnancy plan: The truth doesn't matter — only winning does

On everything from Planned Parenthood to abstinence-only education, facts are less important than victory

By Bob Cesca

Published August 24, 2015 11:58AM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin/Rebecca Cook/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin/Rebecca Cook/J. Scott Applewhite)

High school students in Arizona's Gilbert Public School District have apparently been forced to post stickers on their science text books that read as follows:

The Gilbert Public School Distrcit supports the state of Arizona's strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The District is also in support of promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraceptives, pregnancy, adoption, or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents.

Sure, because parents are always so understanding and supportive when it comes to talking about sex, contraception and abortion. Good luck with that, Arizona teens.

It seems repetitive to do this, but, sorry, no. Abstinence has never been "the most effective way to eliminate" unwanted pregnancies. It doesn't work. And that's understating its failure. Back in 2007, the Department Health and Human Services under not-pro-choice George W. Bush issued a report showing that teens who received abstinence-only educations were just as likely to have sex as students who didn't. The money wasted on abstinence at the time? $87.5 million annually in federal funds for a program that clearly doesn't work. Likewise, Congress is spending untold sums in government funds to investigate Planned Parenthood based on an obviously fraudulent video.

And while the teen pregnancy rate has declined in the last 10 years, experts don't attribute the decline to abstinence education, but instead to the recession and the availability of contraception.

It's nice to know, too, that Arizona is on the same page as Mike Huckabee, who thinks tween and teen girls should carry their pregnancies to term, even if they're raped. At least, he thought it was fine and dandy for Paraguay to mandate that an 11-year-old rape victim carry her rapist's fetus to term, even when her rapist was her own stepfather.

As horrendously ghoulish as that sounds, Huckabee isn't the most ghoulish of the GOP candidates running for president. That title rightfully goes to contender Scott Walker, who said in the first presidential debate that he's opposed to abortion even in cases when the mother's life is in danger.

So, here we are.

For the last several years, the GOP has successfully dragged the abortion debate to the distant fringes -- successfully skewing it enough that instead of discussing ways to prevent abortions without necessarily banning the procedure, we've been fighting about whether it should be legal for teen rape victims to have abortions, or, worse, whether the life of the mother is a legitimate reason to undergo the procedure.

It's all about Negotiation 101. In this case: demand more at the outset and you'll gain more ground. And it's clearly working for the GOP on any number of issues, but primarily on abortion. In the last several years alone, anti-choice Republicans have successfully injected into the discourse such extreme issues as mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, as well as the de-funding of an organization that saves many, many more lives -- women, men and, yes, babies -- than abortion services performed. What's the latest impetus for the de-funding debate? It's a series of videos that all nonpartisan experts as well as a handful of state investigations have determined to be fraudulently edited.

Perhaps the most kneejerk reaction to the videos was Bobby Jindal, who blocked Medicaid funds paid to Planned Parenthood even though there aren't any Planned Parenthood facilities in Louisiana that offer abortion services.

The debate is being held almost exclusively on the terms and erroneous facts of the radical anti-choice crowd, and that appears to be exactly where the GOP wants it. Until recently, no Republican, much less a presidential frontrunner, dared to go so far as to suggest that a child rape-victim should risk her own life birthing a rapist's child, or a woman whose life is threatened by the existence of a complicated pregnancy should roll the dice in the hopes that other non-abortive procedures might save her life.

In too many states, as a consequence of the GOP strategy of swinging for the rape and life-of-the-mother fences, clinics offering abortions have been shut down, and pregnant women have been forced to travel across state lines to receive what's been, until recently, a perfectly legal medical procedure. In other states, abortions have been banned after 20 weeks -- the alleged time when fetuses feel pain, but which the American Medical Association has disputed.

What we've seen, in short, is the mainstreaming of extreme anti-choice tactics, as well as an entirely false narrative fabricated around an organization, Planned Parenthood, which more than anything else saves American lives. The strategy includes repeating the thoroughly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood is engaged in a literal holocaust against the unborn and especially, they say, African-American fetuses. Again, instead of debating the merits of Planned Parenthood based on numbers and reality, we're discussing whether Planned Parenthood worked in cahoots with Nazis and the KKK -- a claim that GOP hopeful Dr. Ben Carson repeated over the weekend and which Martha Raddatz completely deflated with actual facts and statistics. (Specifically, Raddatz correctly said that only five percent of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in neighborhoods that are more than a third black. Put another way, around 60 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in majority-white areas. Sorry, Dr. Carson. Fail.)

Elsewhere, the same Republican Party that wants to end all abortions, in some cases without exception, simultaneously wants to make contraception as difficult to acquire as possible, not less difficult. Logic and common sense dictates that contraception prevents pregnancies and therefore prevents abortion. But this is somehow unacceptable. Specifically, conservative activists believe Obamacare pays for abortion-inducing contraception, even though it absolutely doesn't, thus it must be banned anyway. (The emergency birth control covered by the ACA prevents fertilization, not implantation.) But, again, the GOP isn't interested in common sense or the truth. It's more interested in making sure the debate is held on terms that drop far outside of what mainstream Americans believe. Likewise, it's perfectly acceptable to eliminate subsidies for health insurance policies that cover contraception, while it's totally acceptable to waste taxpayer funds on investigations prompted by phony-baloney sting videos.

If pro-choice activists truly want to roll back the course of the abortion debate, they have to re-capture the initiative from the GOP. Otherwise, the slow march toward a nationwide de facto abortion ban, with or without overturning Roe, will continue to move forward and win by attrition -- state-by-state and presidential election by presidential election.

Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Abortion Anti-abortion Health Planned Parenthood Pro-choice Pro-life Reproductive Health Science