Republicans in Congress are not giving up on their mission to defund Planned Parenthood, and Senate Republicans introduced a short-term spending bill on Tuesday that would strip funding from the sexual health organization and avoid a government shutdown. In the ongoing fight against the organization, Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said on Fox News that defunding Planned Parenthood is "a human rights issue." This rebranding of the conservative war on women is clearly an attempt to put a positive spin on the anti-Planned-Parenthood crusade. But Rubio's statement is extremely problematic. He's correct in the sense that there are human rights involved, but he's confused about whose rights are at stake.
On Fox News' Special Report Tuesday, Bret Baier asked Rubio how far he goes to "stand the line" on defunding Planned Parenthood. Rubio said:
Well, to me, that's not even a political issue — that's a human rights issue ... They discuss it as a political issue, but to me, the sanctity of life is a human rights issue. I believe that unborn children have rights — that someone, just because they haven't been born and don't have a birth certificate or having yet been named, doesn't mean they don't have rights. And Planned Parenthood is an organization that's been caught repeatedly now on video trafficking in fetal tissue of aborted children, and it's an outrageous practice, Americans are outraged by it, and they don't understand why are we continuing to fund with taxpayer money an organization that does this sort of thing.
The biggest problem with Rubio's rant is that unborn children don't have constitutional rights in America, and a fetus is legally considered a child only after it's born. Conservatives have fought for fetal personhood for years and failed, but it sounds like that's what Rubio is really talking about — giving fetuses the same rights as people. So it would be more accurate to describe his fight against Planned Parenthood as a fetal rights issue.
Slapping the term "human rights" onto a controversial issue doesn't automatically make it universally accepted, especially when the phrase is used incorrectly. But if Rubio wants to talk about human rights, then let's talk about them. The human rights at jeopardy in the Planned Parenthood battle aren't those of unborn fetuses, but of American women. Defunding the health centers won't stop medical research on fetal tissue. As Hillary Clinton correctly pointed out, this type of research is done legally across the country, and through entities other than Planned Parenthood. Instead, defunding the organization will strip many women of their access to reproductive and sexual health services like contraception, STD testing and cancer screenings.
Access to medical care is a human right. Reproductive health is a human right. Choosing what to do with your own body is a human right. Dictating what women can or can't do with their bodies is not Rubio's or Congress' right.
While we're on the subject of human rights, let's talk about Rubio's track record on other human rights issues. The senator opposes abortion exemptions for victims of rape or incest, opposed repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, opposes gay marriage, opposed an anti-torture bill, and opposes closing the infamously brutal Guantanamo Bay. So it's no surprise that he's fighting against women's reproductive rights.
Rubio's new spin on "human rights" is noticeably similar to Hillary Clinton's famous declaration that "women's rights are human rights." But by saying that fetal rights are human rights, Rubio totally negates Clinton's statement. Giving fetuses human rights strips women of theirs, because it takes away their right to choose how to treat their own bodies. If he wants to copy Clinton's phrasing, he should either use the full quote or leave it alone, as he took a good thing and ruined it.
Rubio's solution to the Planned Parenthood "problem" was to give the federal money to other health centers instead. He told Fox News:
What we've proposed is, let's take the money that Planned Parenthood gets and let's give it to federally qualified health centers that don't do what Planned Parenthood does, but do provide women's health care, which is important.
This may seem reasonable, but in reality, not enough women's health centers exist to absorb all of Planned Parenthood's patients. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that about 650,000 women across the country, who mostly live in low-income areas without access to other health care clinics, would lose at least some access to medical care if Planned Parenthood was permanently defunded. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been vehemently trying to defund his state's Planned Parenthood clinics as well, and the state's recommendations for alternative health care providers for low-income women included dentists, ophthalmologists, and nursing homes, none of which are equipped or suited to provide reproductive health services (as you could probably guess). So the likelihood that other clinics can completely fill the Planned Parenthood void is low.
Rubio has the right to voice his opinions about Planned Parenthood, but he should be honest about what he's fighting for. You can argue that human rights take precedence over fetal rights or that fetal rights take precedence over human rights — but you can't have both.