Will The GOP Debate Take On Planned Parenthood?

It's been nearly 100 years since Margaret Sanger, a New York City nurse, founded Planned Parenthood, yet America's largest family-planning organization continues to be up for political debate. The issue du jour, of course, is the on-going sting targeting Planned Parenthood's tissue-donation program — just in time for the 2016 election cycle. As the calls from the right to defund Planned Parenthood ring louder, you better believe Thursday's GOP presidential debate will use Planned Parenthood as a major talking point. But just how — and why — will Planned Parenthood remain in the presidential conversation?

Planned Parenthood has come under fire from religious, right-wing conservatives for years, but the family-planning organization is currently bracing for perhaps its largest fight yet. Abortion is no longer an issue saved for the pulpit and pews; since the GOP altered its plank in 2012 to declare the beginning of life at fertilization, taking a hardline, borderline-extremist stance on abortion has become a prerequisite for any Republican presidential candidate. And unlike the Democratic Party, where people like Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who is personally against abortion but supports full legality and access, can exist, the Republican Party pushes its members to transform their rigid anti-abortion stances into even more rigid policies.

The most recent case in point: defunding Planned Parenthood even though federal funding is already barred from going toward abortion. Current federal funding, by the way, is directed toward health services such as STI and cancer screenings, as well as programs that can prevent unplanned pregnancies, including providing various forms of contraception to low-income people.

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Regardless, we can expect the top 10 GOP candidates participating in Thursday night's debate to use abortion as their jumping-off point to defund Planned Parenthood, and, essentially, strip away funding from reproductive health and women's health services. That tactic is already happening this week: Jeb Bush, the one-time GOP frontrunner, said on Tuesday that he would eliminate all federal funds from Planned Parenthood because, "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues."

Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, immediately fired back with a statement:

In three sentences today, Jeb Bush made it very clear that women will lose access to health care if he becomes president. These remarks show that Jeb Bush is no moderate. On women's health issues, he is just as extreme and out of touch as the rest of the Republican primary field, and the policies he supports would hurt women across the country.

As did Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who's got our back on this:

But while Bush and his fellow candidates will surely endure some serious backlash if they continue to make statements degrading women's health services, it also doesn't phase them much. Defunding Planned Parenthood, once a pipe dream for the most religious Americans, has become a viable goal on Capitol Hill. Although President Obama would never sign any legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, conservative Congress members are looking ahead to 2017, when a Republican in the White House would inevitably mean the elimination of $500 million in funding toward Planned Parenthood.

Or maybe they don't even have to wait until 2017. The Senate may have defeated a measure to defund the family-planning organization earlier this week, but murmurs of a government shutdown in October over birth control, cancer screenings and pap smears — of all things! — are growing louder among Congress members. This talk of an impending government shutdown will surely make it into Thursday night’s debate, especially considering the person leading the charge in the Senate is candidate Sen. Ted Cruz. "I believe we should use every and any procedural tool available to defund Planned Parenthood," Cruz told The Hill this week, hinting that it's the Democrats' fault for supporting Planned Parenthood and triggering a possible shutdown.

Thursday can't come soon enough.