Thanks, Republicans! Your insane war on Planned Parenthood keeps making reproductive rights more popular

There's another Planned Parenthood hearing coming. Is this farce all about Hillary Clinton? Maybe!

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 7, 2015 6:56PM (EDT)

  (AP/Alex Brandon/Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Alex Brandon/Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)

The last Planned Parenthood hearing was a wretched failure for Republicans, failing to "expose" Planned Parenthood, instead exposing Republican mendacity and their contempt for women's intelligence.  So of course Congress is going to create another subcommittee investigation of the reproductive health organization, because the other four investigations simply weren't enough. But this one has an exciting twist: They're putting a woman in charge of it, Rep. Marsha Blackburn. That should quell any suspicions that the relentless efforts to destroy any kind of affordable health care covering lady nether regions might be rooted in antagonism towards female sexuality, right?

As with the endless and pointless Benghazi hearings that have similarly produced no actual scandal, the endless attacks on Planned Parenthood clearly have nothing to do with fact-finding, and are just about creating endless political theater so that Republican congressmen don't have to do their actual jobs. The  supposed reason for this unceasing and impotent "investigation"---some fallacious videos promoting an urban legend about Planned Parenthood "selling" fetal body parts---is quietly being shoved down the memory hole, as actual investigations, six state and one federal so far, produce exactly zero evidence for the lurid allegations.

Instead, as Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch points out, the witness list suggests that the purpose of this hearing will be to "expose" the shocking news that Planned Parenthood is a place that provides abortion and that religious conservatives disapprove of this. Just in case there was anyone left in the country who was unaware. The witnesses are a bunch of anti-choice activists, and while they will no doubt make a bunch of accusations of illegal and unethical behavior at Planned Parenthood, if there was a single shred of proof of it, it would have turned up in the last dozen investigations. They continue not to call David Daleiden, the head of the Center for Medical Progress who made these original "selling fetal body parts" allegations. As a political move, it's smart---you definitely don't want someone who is so deeply dishonest put in front of Democrats to grill---but it shows that learning the truth is literally the last thing that Republicans want to get out of this entire investigation farce.

Since no new information will be turned up, why are Republicans even going forward with this farce? The recent headline-grabbing comments by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is vying for John Boehner's Speaker position, suggest an intriguing possibility. Speaking to Jake Tapper about the Republican enthusiasm for endless go-nowhere investigative hearings, McCarthy let a little too much of the real motivations slip, "So, it's not just a policy. It's also a media," he explained. "So, that's why, within a select committee -- think of this. When you look at poll numbers of Hillary Clinton, they have dropped."

He was talking about the similarly fruitless Benghazi investigations that Congress will clearly continue to hold as long as Clinton continues to run for office. But if the point of the Benghazi hearings is to stoke anti-Clinton sentiment, then there's always the possibility that the endless Planned Parenthood non-investigation investigations serve the same purpose, to keep a cloud of suspicion swirling in order to undermine Clinton's 2016 campaign.

That is a little more of a leap than the Benghazi situation, which involves Republicans invoking Clinton's name a lot in tones of faux outrage. But there's still a major timing issue to consider. Clinton is going to be running not just to be the first woman president, but to be an openly feminist one. She stepped into the limelight as a feminist figure in 1995, when she spoke to the United Nations about women's rights, saying, "Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential." Since then, she's made improving the lives of women and girls a priority, with her most recent effort being the No Ceilings project, in conjunction with the Gates Foundation.

This kind of work---improving women's health care access, helping women achieve equality with men---is feel-good, generally non-controversial stuff, making Clinton's association with it a powerful political asset. So is it a coincidence that Republicans chose now to really gear up a campaign meant to demonize women's health care right as the campaign season is also gearing up? Planned Parenthood is likely the single most famous organization in the country associated both with women's health care and giving women the control over their own lives that allows them to get an education, a career, and to be choosier in who they marry, all of which are critical to achieving equality. If you wanted to cast suspicions about the entire movement to improve women's lives---making people associated with it, like Hillary Clinton, look bad---then demonizing a venerable organization that is synonymous with these issues makes sense.

Indeed, there's a good reason to believe that one of the major arguments of this non-investigation hearing will be that feminism, far from being a force for good in women's lives, actually hurts them. One of the testifiers will be Luana Stoltenberg, who presents herself as a reformed sinner on the Christian right circuit. Her tale is clearly meant to be a parable about the evils of female freedom, lamenting her "promiscuous" lifestyle and blaming the availability of legal abortion for her "partying and sexual encounters". The implications, which will likely be fleshed out during the next hearing, are not hard to figure out: Giving women control over their own lives is a failure that leads to sluttiness and despair. The other implication---so don't vote for that feminist Democrat---hardly needs to be said to be understood.

But will it work? Probably not. As Rebecca Traister in New York pointed out, all these faux scandals and phony hearings have not resulted in much of a decline in Planned Parenthood's popularity. In fact, the organization and all the politicians that support it continue to be more popular than the politicians who demonize it. No matter how many times you warn that feminism will be the ruin of women and that "women's health care" is just a cover story for sin and evil, the  public continues to support women having access to Planned Parenthood's reproductive health services like contraception, STI testing, and even abortion. Continuing to "investigate" hasn't changed that and it likely won't do so in the future.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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