Crippling fear of female sexuality: What's really behind the GOP's Planned Parenthood witch hunt

This crusade isn't about saving money or protecting life. It's rooted in something far more base

Published September 30, 2015 4:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Jae C. Hong)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Jae C. Hong)

The congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood yesterday (which, it has to be said again, was inspired by a hoax) was instructive in so many ways. It was misogynistic and farcical and insulting and mostly pointless, but it was also an opportunity to see how flimsy and dishonest the GOP’s attacks on Planned Parenthood really are. One of the ways you can tell the GOP isn’t being forthright about their grievances with abortion, contraception, and Planned Parenthood is that they can never quite settle on a coherent case, and they’re always looking for a new angle of attack.

An objection we hear constantly is that federal funds should not be paying for abortions (even though abortion is perfectly legal in this country). But this is a tired trope, repeated mercilessly by the conservatives in Congress. It’s also patently untrue. Federal money is not being spent on abortions. There’s nothing to debate here. At one point in the hearing, Rep. Brenda Lawrence was forced, yet again, to state the obvious:

It’s exhausting to keep hearing about federal dollars being spent on abortions when repeatedly the facts state, and it’s not a controversy, read the facts, do your research, before you ask these exhausting, sometimes insulting questions. We can’t use federal dollars for abortion. This is not a lump sum budget item that we give to Planned Parenthood – it is reimbursement [via Medicare]. How many times does that have to be repeated for this to become an embraced fact?

But politicized spectacles like the hearing yesterday are notoriously fact-free, so Lawrence’s words likely failed to change minds in that room.

Perhaps the most revealing moment of the hearing came at the beginning, when Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, offered a tearful soliloquy about cancer and the death of his parents. If you’re thinking that means he spoke earnestly and powerfully about an issue of profound importance to almost everyone, think again. Instead, Chaffetz invoked cancer so that he could lament how lopsided our spending priorities are:

Cancer in this country kills about 1,500 people a day – and yet our federal government only spends $5 billion to fight it…We don’t spend enough on cancer…The question before us is does this organization, does Planned Parenthood really need federal subsidy? Does it need federal dollars...Every time we spend a federal dollar, what we’re doing is we’re pulling money out of somebody’s pocket and we’re giving it to someone else.

Chaffetz concluded by implying that the best way to “quadruple” our funding for cancer research is to defund Planned Parenthood. No one objects to spending more money on cancer research, but consider what this logic says about Chaffetz (and the Republicans who agree with him). In the last fiscal year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million in government funds (which, again, were not used to fund abortion). By comparison, the Iraq War costs the federal government more than $2 trillion. We lost that war and achieved nothing by fighting it. How much of that could’ve spent on cancer research?

America spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. A disturbing chunk of that $610 billion budget goes directly to war profiteers and corrupt defense contractors. And yet no complaints or hearings from fiscal conservatives about the need to reprioritize. Instead, they take their moral stand not on poverty or inequality or torture or unjust wars but on funding vital health care for women, particularly poor women.

And here's an inconvenient truth: According to the Congressional Budget Office, defunding Planned Parenthood would actually cost the government a net $130 million over a decade, largely due to the spike in government spending required to meet the health needs of women whose services would be disrupted.

If Republicans were honest, they’d admit that their real obsession is sex. The sordid and religiously-motivated angst over sex and the female body is what’s animating all of this. As Amanda Marcotte noted, the bizarre (and woefully uninformed) focus on mammograms yesterday was telling in this respect:

This obsession with mammograms belies the real agenda here, which has nothing to do with ‘fetal body parts’ or even abortion, but with delegitimizing health care that exists so that people, particularly women, can have healthy and safe sex lives. The implication was clear: Mammograms are real health care, and all those other services—contraception, STI testing and treatment, Pap smears—are not. After all, virgins can get breast cancer, but you aren’t going to get the clap or an unintended pregnancy if you don’t have sex.

It’s hard to quibble with this observation; everything about the GOP’s orientation to women and sex confirms it. And even on the abortion front, when you consider how little respect for life beyond the womb these people have as well as their indifference to policies that actually reduce abortions, it’s seems clear enough what all this is about.

There is good news, however. Odious as this hearing was, it will only help the Democratic Party. It shows how cocooned the GOP really is. This party has a problem with women and this is how they choose to spend their time? Outside conservative echo chambers, there’s a country full of people – especially women – who object to everything they saw and heard yesterday, who acknowledge the law, and who, above all, respect the right of women to control their own bodies.

These people won’t vote for a party that behaves like this. And who can blame them?

Planned Parenthood President Schools Republican Congressman

By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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Aol_on Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Republicans Sex Social Conservatives The Right