Among Republicans and conservatives, it’s a matter of settled fact at this point that Planned Parenthood is a criminal organization that illegally harvests the organs from aborted fetuses to sell them for a profit. And not only did the act of fetal organ trafficking happen, the proof of it is so overwhelming that the full weight of the U.S. justice system deserves to be brought down upon the organization as soon as possible. “We need to prosecute Planned Parenthood,” Ted Cruz announced in July. He said Planned Parenthood officials had tacitly confessed to “multiple felonies” and called the group an “ongoing criminal enterprise.” Mike Huckabee said that he, as president, would sic DOJ on Planned Parenthood “for violating federal law and selling body parts.” The case is airtight, the verdict is preordained, and there is no punishment that is too harsh for the depraved criminals at the nation’s leading provider of women’s health services.
The only potential hitch in all this is the complete and utter lack of any evidence suggesting that any crime was committed.
For months and months, the GOP and the conservative media have flogged away at Planned Parenthood, claiming that a series of undercover “sting” videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress – a shady group of antiabortion rights extremists – show that the group is harvesting and selling “baby parts” for profit. But the videos don’t actually show that. If they did show that, one would imagine that any one of the several investigations surrounding the allegations would have revealed some proof of an illegal black market fetal tissue ring, but so far those investigations have turned up bupkis. The most recent inquiry, an investigation launched by a Republican district attorney in Texas, once again found no evidence of Planned Parenthood’s alleged criminality, but it did hand down grand jury indictments for two Center for Medical Progress officials. It was a dramatic backfire in the anti-Planned Parenthood campaign, which has been marked by setbacks and embarrassments for Republicans ever since these videos debuted last summer.
On the surface, the videos represented a cut-and-dried political win for the antiabortion GOP – they carried the promise of discrediting a leading abortion provider, their frank discussion of the grim details of abortion procedures packed an emotional punch, and they purported to document behavior that the group’s liberal and Democratic allies would be hard-pressed to defend. But rather than dividing Democrats, it was the Republicans who ended up at each other’s throats over Planned Parenthood. It was obviously discrediting for the videos’ proponents that their content did not match the salacious allegations surrounding them, but the larger problem for Republicans was, as Brian Beutler wrote back in August, that “conservatives have unleashed political forces Republicans can’t control.”
The hard-line antiabortion extremists within the party and the activist right demanded that Republicans take drastic action to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding. “Shut Down The Government. Now,” wrote Erick Erickson in July, arguing that “if Republicans in Congress will not stop giving tax payer dollars to the American Joseph Mengele, we should show the party violence in the polling booth.” This led to a split in Congress, with some Republicans (like Ted Cruz) angling for a government shutdown and others (like New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte) arguing that it was an unrealistic and self-defeating tactic. All the while, polls showed overwhelming public support for maintaining Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
Republicans hauled Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards before a congressional committee to grill her about the group’s finances and practices, and they were flummoxed as Richards maintained her cool and composure in the face of some aggressive and petty hectoring from GOP representatives. The House Republicans launched their own investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of federal money and found no wrongdoing. They’ve been at this for months, and thus far they haven’t managed to land even a glancing blow against the group they’re convinced is perpetrating some form of criminal activity.
But the myth just won’t die. The GOP is too deeply invested at this point to admit that they overstepped on this one. And so, of course, when news broke of the Texas indictments against the Center for Medical Progress personnel, Republican presidential candidates declared their outrage and bafflement that Planned Parenthood’s obvious criminality had somehow been overlooked once again. “I'm disturbed that while Planned Parenthood, who are the ones that were actually selling off these [body] parts, were found having done nothing wrong, the people who tried to expose them are the ones that are now facing criminal charges,” Marco Rubio told CNN. It doesn’t matter how many times this witch hunt backfires – Planned Parenthood is guilty, they’ll argue, no matter what the evidence says.