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Will the GOP Blackmail Dems into Defunding Planned Parenthood?

Republicans hate the organized pro-choice world so much because they believe pro-choicers have the power to win elections.

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This is exactly the game that was played during the health-care reform debate. Pro-choicers went in figuring our only job was to lay low and let the bill pass without making demands such as repealing the Hyde Amendment. President Obama and Senate Democrats assured us they wanted to leave abortion out of this, neither expanding access nor restricting it, just as President Obama is now trying to defend pro-choice views by saying the debate is beside the point. Anti-choicers, who had nothing to lose, held the health-care reform bill hostage until they got their way, which was a bill that dramatically restricted women’s access to private insurance funds to pay for abortion.

This time around, anti-choicers have quite the laundry list of Democratic concerns they can hold hostage. On top of defunding Title X, the continuing resolution also zeroes out the funding for health care reform and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as cutting the EPA’s budget by a third. Considering how Democrats gave in to severe restrictions of reproductive rights before to save health-care reform, the obvious play from Republicans here is to secure the cuts to family planning in exchange for funding health care reform, and most importantly, not shutting down the government in the midst of a terrible economy, which would send the already mind-boggling 10 percent unemployment rate up even further. If Republicans use the economy, the government, and health-care reform as blackmail to get rid of Planned Parenthood, it’s not hard to see Democrats accepting the compromise. Especially if you consider how easy it would be for Democrats to convince themselves that expanded insurance coverage would negate the need for Planned Parenthood, though it very likely wouldn’t. But most importantly, it’s hard to hardball an opponent who is practically begging you to do your worst. And there's a long list of Republicans who’ve indicated they welcome this idea of taking the fight to a government shutdown.

As the Stupak amendment demonstrated, pro-choicers simply don’t have much leverage. Pulling support from the Democrats will only result is a more rapid downhill slide toward abortion criminalization and severe restrictions on contraception. As Jamelle Bouie noted in the American Prospect, “Democrats can freely ignore abortion rights when it suits them, as they don't have to worry about electoral defection. What's more, they can treat reproductive health as a second-order concern, subordinate to election-year concerns, like electability and issue popularity.” It’s true that pro-choicers can always just avoid voting or giving to candidates, and this should concern the Democrats more than it does. But with the economy and health care reform on the line, can we really count on Democrats to stand up and defend Planned Parenthood as if doing so were a first-tier concern, after they’ve treated pro-choicers like the ladies’ auxiliary for more than a decade now?

The only thing pro-choicers can do is to get ahead of the curve on this one, and make a lot of noise before talk of compromise to get the bill passed even starts, to make it clear that Democrats will pay a price in votes and donations if they roll over on this one. Luckily, this seems to be exactly what supporters of Planned Parenthood are doing, with online protests and speak-outs, as well as rallies around the country. Republicans are going after Planned Parenthood with both guns blazing for the same reason they’re trying to destroy unions around the country, because they see dismantling the organized left as the key to holding permanent power.

Even if the Democrats don’t realize it, Republicans do: A political party is nothing without its base. That Republicans hate the organized pro-choice world so much shows they believe that pro-choicers have the power to win elections. Pro-choicers should make their voices heard so Democrats start to see what Republicans figured out a long time ago.

 
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