Pro-life Dems see path to defund Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON (BP) -- To win enough Democratic support to become law, proposals to defund Planned Parenthood must emphasize the transfer of funds to other women's health care providers rather than the mere removal of money from America's largest abortion provider, according to a pro-life group within the Democratic Party.

Democrats for Life of America, a Washington-based group that works to elect pro-life Democrats to public office, also said a push to transfer Planned Parenthood's funding should follow a congressional investigation of the abortion giant and target Democratic House and Senate members in districts with few or no Planned Parenthood clinics.

"Planned Parenthood is not the only game in town," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America. "They're not the only providers of health care for women, especially for low-income women." Some 9,000 government-backed community health centers provide women's health services without performing abortions, "are more readily available" and "are not just focused in big cities" like the 700 U.S. Planned Parenthood clinics, she said.

Some Democrats may vote to transfer Planned Parenthood's funding to community health centers, Day told Baptist Press, if they are informed about community health centers and if House and Senate leadership bring the transfer of funds to a vote following a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood.

"Getting that message out to Democrats is the way to defund Planned Parenthood," Day said. "... If you offer solutions and say, 'Listen, we don't want to cut off funds to women,' by transferring the money to community health centers, you'll be more likely to get more votes" in Congress.

A Republican-sponsored bill under consideration in the Senate takes a similar approach to the strategy promoted by Democrats for Life, recommending the transfer of Planned Parenthood funds to other health care options for women. But Day critiqued Republicans for not accompanying their bill with a sufficiently rigorous public relations campaign emphasizing the continued provision of health services for women.

Democratic House and Senate members in some 30 states with fewer than 10 Planned Parenthood clinics are "good targets" for pro-life lobbying, Day said. She proposed asking such Democrats, "Where do you want the tax dollars going? Do you want them going to other states, or do you want to bring them home to yours?"

North Dakota, for example, which has one Democratic senator, has no Planned Parenthood clinics and 16 community health centers, Day said. Rhode Island, with two Democratic senators, has one Planned Parenthood clinic and 45 community health centers. Hawaii, also with two Democratic senators, has two Planned Parenthood clinics and 74 community health centers.

In the House, some legislators' districts do not have any Planned Parenthood clinics even though there are clinics in their states. Day cited Nevada as an example, where both local Planned Parenthood clinics are in Las Vegas.

Still, getting Democrats in either house of Congress to support a bill defunding Planned Parenthood will be a challenge. BP queried the 10 Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee regarding their willingness to support a withdrawal of funds from Planned Parenthood. Nine did not respond, and the one who did -- pro-life Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey -- said he will support continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood -- even after the Center for Medical Progress released videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of baby body parts.

"If any individuals involved in fetal tissue donation at Planned Parenthood are determined to have violated the law, then they should be prosecuted," Casey said in written comments. "According to Planned Parenthood none of its facilities in Pennsylvania are engaged in fetal tissue donation, and I hope other chapters across the nation would discontinue the practice. I will continue to support Title X funding for family planning and contraception, including funds that go to Planned Parenthood, because these programs reduce unintended pregnancies and, as a result, reduce the number of abortions. Planned Parenthood facilities provide vital services, like cervical and breast cancer screenings and primary health care, to millions of low-income women and it's important that those services continue."

Richard Land, former president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP Democrats for Life's idea to target Democrats in states with few Planned Parenthood clinics "is probably a correct strategy."

"Planned Parenthood not only gets over half a billion dollars a year from the federal treasury," Land said, "they give an enormous amount of money to Democratic candidates for office. And that symbiotic relationship makes it difficult for Democratic candidates for office and Democratic officeholders to be willing to go on record as opposing continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood."

The root of Democrats' pro-choice leanings extends back to 1972, Land said, when Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern began to lead the party in a liberal direction, away from its more moderate establishment. In 1964, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater had led his party in a conservative direction away from its moderate establishment. As a result, by the mid-1970s the two parties had become more ideologically polarized than ever.

By 1980, the Republican Party had embraced pro-lifers -- partly in an effort to build a large enough coalition to survive following the Watergate scandal. The Democratic Party had become dominated by the "McGovernites, who were progressive on every issue -- the abortion issue [and] virtually every issue of the sexual revolution," said Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary.

The leftward drift of the Democratic Party on social issues, Land said, seemed to contribute to Democratic presidential hopefuls like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Richard Gephardt and Jesse Jackson switching from pro-life to pro-choice views.

To stem the pro-choice tide of the Democratic Party enough to defund Planned Parenthood, "public outrage would have to reach a critical mass," Land said, noting that the series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress "may do it."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Bapstist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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