Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood Fails in Senate
The Senate failed to clear a procedural hurdle Monday on a measure that would have stripped Planned Parenthood of federal funding after a series of controversial videos surfaced which suggest the organization is selling fetal tissue for research.
The vote, which failed 53-46, would have redirected the more than $500 million in taxpayer funding Planned Parenthood receives annually to community health centers as a way to allow women to continue to receive care. The vote comes in the wake of four videos released by anti-abortion activists depicting Planned Parenthood employees apparently discussing the sale of body parts of aborted fetuses, which is illegal. Planned Parenthood has denied that such illegal activity takes place, and says the videos have been heavily edited and distort the truth.
Republicans highlighted the fact that their legislation would not simply remove the federal funding from women’s healthcare, but instead would reallocate the Planned Parenthood money to other organizations, such as community health centers, a point Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made on the Senate floor Monday morning.
“Instead of subsidizing a political group, this bill would protect federal funding for health services for women,” McConnell said.
Despite that point, Democrats painted the vote as an attack on women’s healthcare, saying that the other health centers simply can’t absorb the number of patients Planned Parenthood assists. Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren railed against Republicans in a floor speech prior to the vote, asking her colleagues, “Do you have any idea what year it is? Did you fall down, hit your head and think you woke up in the 1950s or the 1890s?”
“The Republican scheme to defund Planned Parenthood is not some sort of surprised response to a highly edited video,” Warren said. “Nope. The Republican vote to defund Planned Parenthood is just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated right-wing attack on women’s rights.”
Republicans, however, have jumped on the videos as a way to galvanize pro-life supporters against Planned Parenthood. Republicans and some Democrats have harshly criticized Planned Parenthood over the videos, including calls for investigations into criminal action and calls to end federal funding of the organization.
Monday’s vote represented the first official attempt to move forward on the issue. Sens. Joni Ernst and Rand Paul led the crafting of the legislation, which only two Democrats, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, joined the vast majority of Republicans in voting for. Only Republican Sen. Mark Kirk voted against the bill, though McConnell switched his vote to “no” as a way to ensure he can bring the measure up again in the future.
Kirk wasn’t the only Republican against the measure, however. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted to open debate on the bill in order to introduce her own legislation as a substitute, which would require the Department of Justice to investigate whether Planned Parenthood had violated the law and report to Congress within 90 days. Collins said in a speech on the Senate floor that the videos were “appalling,” but that she supported an investigation into the organization without taking away funding, which she described as critical for family planning services.
“I just don’t see how we can ensure that all of the patients currently served by Planned Parenthood can be absorbed by alternative healthcare providers,” Collins said. The measure “would require women to give up the healthcare provider of their choice when we don’t yet know all of the facts about Planned Parenthood’s actions.”
Despite Monday’s failed vote, the debate over the videos and Planned Parenthood funding isn’t going away. It will likely be a heavy topic of conversation during lawmakers’ month-long August recess, and other attempts to strip the funding are expected in the fall. Some Republicans have even suggested tying the issue to a government funding bill next month, which could potentially lead to a government shutdown, as Democrats would filibuster that plan and Obama would veto it.
A Republican leadership aide told RealClearPolitics that there is “no appetite” for a shutdown and that those who are advocating that push are unlikely to vote for the government funding measure anyway, even without the Planned Parenthood issue attached.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, said Monday that he thinks senators should use “any and every procedural tool available to defund Planned Parenthood.”
Asked by a reporter if it was worth a government shutdown, Cruz responded: “I think that is an excellent question for you to ask every Democrat: if they’re willing to try to shut down the government in order to force continued taxpayer funding for an organization that has now been caught on film apparently repeatedly admitting to multiple felonies, to buying and selling body parts in direct contravention of federal criminal law.”