The Campaign Against Planned Parenthood Is Decades in the Making

This election season, Planned Parenthood has come under unprecedented attack, fueled by a series of deceptively edited, right-wing propaganda videos making the false claim that the women’s health organization profits from the selling of fetal tissue produced by abortions. (Several Planned Parenthood clinics provide medical researchers with fetal tissue if the woman who had the abortion wishes to donate it; the clinics charged researchers for its costs in preserving and processing the tissue.)


But the campaign against Planned Parenthood, a campaign created as an organizing tool by right-wing leaders, has been decades in the making.

In 1996, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, I attended an anti-choice rally on the grounds of a federal building in San Diego. There, Howard Phillips, a movement leader and one of the founders of the religious right, told me: “Planned Parenthood is Murder Incorporated.”

Despite his profound impact on the modern Republican Party and the formation of the religious right, Phillips, who died in 2013, was viewed as a fringe figure—someone who was too out-there for polite company. So, while Phillips played the outside game of organizing through incendiary rhetoric and dissemination of memes and tropes, his colleagues Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie played the inside game in the Grand Old Party, working to elect right-wing delegates, and pushing right-wing figures such as Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly into the party infrastructure.

Today, consequently, the outside game is the inside game. Today’s Republican politicians, including presidential candidates, make claims that would have been deemed outrageous 20 years ago, for both their mendacity and their malice. Take, for instance, presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina’s outright lie that a video released by a right-wing outlet showed a live, nearly full-term fetus being harvested by Planned Parenthood for its brain. No amount of fact-checking could convince Fiorina to back away from her lie, and for sound political reasoning: This is what the people in the party base built by Phillips, Viguerie, and Weyrich want to believe.

To win their party’s nomination, the Republican presidential candidates are simply serving up the worldview of the people who vote in Republican primaries, delivered with the play-acted rage meant to speak to the fury felt by right-wing voters who see their white-men-in-charge way of life slipping away.

Twenty years ago, an anti-choice figure such as former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry, who made allowances for violence against abortion providers, could find no place in the GOP, even as the party’s platform was rewritten by hard-core anti-choicers Schlafly and Bay Buchanan (campaign manager for her brother, Pat). Figures such as Terry were forced to Phillips’s fringe, left to mingle with militia members and other pariahs at Phillips’s convention of his U.S. Taxpayers Party, which was held in the days leading up to the Republican confab.

Contrast that with the case of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whom many believe could win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. When former Operation Rescue chief Troy Newman endorsed him, Cruz issued a press release touting Newman’s thumbs-up.

Never mind that Newman has called for the “execution” of “abortionists,” according to ThinkProgress. That’s just grist for the mill.

IN THE DAYS THAT followed the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Friday, Republican politicians and candidates offered lukewarm condolences, sometimes paired with the implication that the organization, which provides a range of health-care services, often to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them, somehow brought the violence upon itself.

Cruz initially tweeted that he was “praying for the loved ones of those killed,” but said nothing condemning the killings until he was pressed to.

When told that the killer, Robert Dear, is reported to have told law enforcement officials “no more baby parts” after he was arrested, Cruz cited a blog report that Dear’s gender was listed as female on the voter registration rolls, saying, "Well, it's also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and transgendered leftist activist, if that's what he is."

Instead of condemning anyone who would kill in the name of the anti-choice cause, the Texan spewed a string of hot-button terms that rile up the GOP base. You’ve got your queers, your leftists, your women. (County officials have since chalked up the mistaken gender designation to a typo.)

The other Republican presidential candidates were hardly any better. On Meet the Press, Donald Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the disputed videos showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about fetal organs as if they were “selling parts to a car.”

Responding to comments made by Planned Parenthood Vice President Dawn Laguens that the “toxic environment” created by right-wing attacks on Planned Parenthood helps fuel anti-choice violence, Fiorina said: “This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message. The vast majority of Americans agree what Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong.”

For his part, Ben Carson, who has compared abortion to both slavery and the Holocaust, tried to spread the blame around. On CBS News’s Face the Nation,Carson said, “There is no question that you know hateful rhetoric no matter which side it comes from—right or left—is something that is detrimental to our society.”

Since the release of the anti-Planned Parenthood propaganda videos, reports Vox’s Emily Crockett, there has been an uptick in criminal or suspicious activity targeting reproductive health clinics—10 incidents since the first video was released in July, including the firebombing of a California Planned Parenthood clinic in October.

To right-wing Republicans, it’s all just politics, and they’re playing to win. Don’t worry, they’ll tweet their condolences to the victims.

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