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On Friday, just as I was filing a story about Congressional Republicans attacking dilation and evacuation, Congress had something else up its sleeve: A freeze on Planned Parenthood funding for the next year*, part of a critical budget appropriations bill. Clearly, I need to change my proposed weekly variety show to an hourly report.
Wrangling over the budget has at this point become so commonplace that Republicans are clearly bent on threatening a government shutdown annually, using tactics exactly like this one.
Pick a controversial issue, attempt to force the government's hand, lean back, and reap the proceeds. The unspoken demand in this case: Agree to the freeze on funding, or we'll hold up the entire government, as occurred in 2013, with a 16 day shutdown that cost approximately $24 billion.
House Republicans claim the freeze on funding is necessary in order to give it time to "investigate" the series of sting videos that have been released by the rapidly anti-choice Center for Medical Progress.
Curiously, investigations in South Dakota and Massachussets have turned up nothing against Planned Parenthood, though it is notable that the actual tactics used by the undercover filming parties may have been illegal or at least dubious.
The vote, which occurred almost entirely along party lines — with the exception of Democrats Dan Lipinski and Collin Peterson for and Republicans Charlie Dent, Robert Dold, and Richard Hanna against** — is really just a stunt. It may have passed in the House, but the Senate likely won't be able to muster the 60 votes needed to pass it. Even if they did, the President will smack it down with a veto faster than you can say "souvenir signing pen," and the Senate definitely doesn't have the 67 votes it needs to override that veto.
Let's be clear about one thing: This funding freeze will not go into effect. But it's not the first time Congress has attempted to defund the venerable reproductive health organization, and it won't be the last.
However, this time it occurs in a very chilling context. It's not just the repeated sting videos that use selective editing and classic inflammatory tactics to whip up the right. It's also the escalating attacks directly on abortion service providers, including several acts of domestic terrorism against Planned Parenthood facilities.
It's always been dangerous to be in the reproductive health field. It's more dangerous now than ever before.
Of course, Operation Rescue, the group behind the "Center for Medical Progress" is a pretty terrifying terrorist organization in its own right. It promotes violence against abortion providers, compares pro-choice activists with Nazis, has been accused of bombing attempts, and goes after companies that do business with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Yes, this is the group that goes around with the "truth trucks" featuring gory photos of dismembered fetuses.
Earlier this summer, hackers doxed 333 people associated with Planned Parenthood. Working as an abortion provider or in association with a clinic is extremely dangerous in some communities in the U.S., and this isn't the first time a terrorist group has posted identifying information of people it thinks works for Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics online. Identifying information that has, in several cases, gotten people killed.
Of course, some of the people doxed weren't even Planned Parenthood employees or associates, but who cares, right?
A similar hacking brought down Planned Parenthood's website, which includes a variety of reproductive health resources. It took days to recover — during which the organization was deluged in donations.
In 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot in his own church while serving as an usher. Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot at his home in New York in 1998, illustrating the serious dangers of being doxed. In that same year, a security guard — not even a health care provider — died in Birmingham when a clinic was bombed.
Receptionists and clinic escorts have also been killed in attacks on Planned Parenthood — yes, those people in the bright vests put everything on the line when they help patients get the health care they need.
Dr. Leroy Carhart resolutely refuses to stop performing abortions despite multiple attempts on his life and his clinic, including an arson that destroyed his barn in 1991. He says that providers with the experience needed to perform safe late second trimester and early third trimester abortions are dwindling in numbers, and he's not going to stop until he's satisfied that people trained for the procedure are ready to take over. He is one of less than 10 people willing and able to perform so-called "late term abortions."
Earlier this month, a thankfully empty Planned Parenthood facility in Washington was set on fire. The arson investigation is ongoing, and it joins a long history of fires, attempted bombings, and other assaults on Planned Parenthood clinics.
It's "pro-life" when you're murdering adult human beings in the name of justice, evidently, just like it's "pro-life" to repeatedly defund social services and actively lobby against groups that provide neonatal care and support.
The House also passed an additional anti-abortion law, the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act," targeting abortion providers and making it even more dangerous to provide safe abortions. The bill plays upon the perpetual myth that abortions involve killing living infants, with the usual "abortion survivors" trotted out to support it. The bill mandates that "children born alive" after abortions be provided with medical care — something already covered by the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 — penalizes those who fail to report violations of the law, and threatens to charge patients with conspiracy if they violate the act.
The most chilling line: "An individual who commits an overt act that kills a child born alive is subject to criminal prosecution for murder."
Killing an infant is already murder. We don't need a law to tell us this: Any person who murders an infant in any context will be charged with murder.
Abortion, however, does not result in the birth of a living infant. It results in the termination of a pregnancy involving a nonviable fetus. Substantial body of law has drawn a dividing line when it comes to abortion regulation, and is in general agreement that inducing labor to kill a living infant is not, in fact, okay, nor should it be. It is also not abortion.
California representative Judy Chu (Democrat), said during floor debate that: "The Franks bill fails to distinguish between a viable and non-viable fetus, which is the constitutional line between permissible abortions and those that can be regulated or prohibited," explains Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check. That's dangerous for care providers, who could face jail terms for performing abortions.
While Planned Parenthood is perfectly within its rights to perform abortions, as a full-service reproductive health provider, it's worth repeating, yet again, that only three percent of the services it offers are abortion-related.
Moreover, many facilities don't offer abortion at all. And it bears repeating, yet again, that this isn't about abortion, but about assaulting reproductive health services in the U.S., and specifically targeting patients who need to be able to prevent, terminate, or manage pregnancies.
It's also about assaulting the support staff who make their health care possible: Doctors, nurses, physician assistants, secretaries, cleaning staff, security guards, clinic escorts, the myriad companies who supply everything from needles to office products.
The House knew this would fail. That wasn't the point. The point was to send a shot across the bow: We are in a position where a bill to suspend funding for Planned Parenthood will pass in the House.
For conservatives, it's a rallying cry — if they can do well in 2016, they may be able to make a bill like this more than an intellectual exercise. For liberals, it should also be a rallying cry — get on it, or watch your reproductive rights disappear into thin air.
Meanwhile, if you want to help protect access to abortion services in the U.S., here's where to send the check.
*According to the Congressional Budget Office, "The government would incur some costs for Medicaid beneficiaries currently served by Planned Parenthood who under the bill would not receive services that help women avert pregnancies. Because the costs of about 45 percent of all births are paid for by the Medicaid program, CBO estimates that additional births that would result from enacting H.R. 3134 would add to federal spending for Medicaid. In addition, some of those children would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs. In the one-year period in which federal funds for Planned Parenthood would be prohibited under the bill, CBO estimates the number of births in the Medicaid program 4 would increase by several thousand, increasing direct spending for Medicaid by $20 million in 2016 and by $60 million over the 2016-2020 period. Netting those costs against the savings estimated above, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would reduce direct spending by $235 million over the 2016-2025 period."
**Fun factoid: There are 22 Republican women in the House, FYI. The bill was introduced by Republican Diane Black.