With the Senate's recent passage of legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, you'd think that most Americans would be on the same page, even if that page is a detestable attempt to reduce women's body autonomy. After all, politicians are supposed to represent the interests of the people; that's kind of the basis of democracy. According to a poll by USA Today and Suffolk University, however, the overwhelming majority of Americans actually oppose cutting off funds for the organization, which provides birth control and healthcare services for women across the country.
The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus three percent, reports that a third of Americans agree with defunding Planned Parenthood — but a full 58 percent oppose it, and nine percent were undecided. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were differences of opinion along party lines: 89 percent of Democrats opposed defunding, while 59 percent of Republicans were actually in favor. Independents sided with Democrats on the issue, with 54 percent supporting continued federal funding. The results suggest that there might be a disconnect between what some politicians think Americans want as opposed to what they actually want.
Admittedly, Americans are notoriously divided on the topic of abortion, especially as it tends to combine the button-pressing issues of religion and women's rights. This is certainly not helped by the extreme rhetoric often employed when debating the issue, such as anti-abortion group Live Action's hidden camera video earlier this year. The video depicts Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting fetal tissue for medical research, which Live Action claimed was a front for selling "baby parts." Planned Parenthood responded that accusations are "flat-out untrue," but the damage was already done. Conservatives were able later to push through defunding legislation.
Last month, a shooter at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado reportedly echoed the video's words, allegedly telling authorities "No more baby parts." With this in mind, it's no surprise that 46 percent of those polled for the USA Today/Suffolk University survey agreed that "heated political rhetoric" was at least partly responsible for the shooting, which killed three. However, 36 percent disagreed, responding that it was merely a random, apolitical act of violence.
Despite the focus on Planned Parenthood's status as an abortion provider, the vast majority of the organization's services are actually dedicated to other aspects of healthcare: Contraception, breast cancer screenings, HIV testing, and more for the millions of men and women it services. However, the popular perception of Planned Parenthood as an organization of "baby killers" is hardly new — right-wing politicians have been gunning for its end from the very beginning. Let's take a look at some of the more notable incidents.
In 1979, Minnesota legislature passed a law ending state funding of groups offering abortion services. It was struck down the next year, but the judge noted Planned Parenthood's role in the law's passage, saying that "Planned Parenthood's unpopularity in and of itself and without reference to some independent considerations in the public interest cannot justify [the law]."
A few years later, Ronald Reagan imposed the Global Gag Rule cutting off federal funding to foreign aid organizations (like Planned Parenthood's international program) that provided abortion services. Although Planned Parenthood sued the United States Agency for International Development, the ban remained in place until Bill Clinton reversed it in 1993.
In 1996, Missouri banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding, but a federal judge strikes it down within a few months. Similarly, Wisconsin Republicans (including future GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker) ended all state funding for the organization in 1997. In fact, the 1990s were full of instances where Planned Parenthood's funding was threatened and, at times, taken away altogether.
Despite Clinton's repeal of the Global Gag Rule, it resurfaced in 2001 when George W. Bush reinstated the ban. (President Obama repealed it again in 2009.) In 2003, Missouri banned state funding for family planning altogether after several battles to defund Planned Parenthood in particular.
Listing every instance of attacks on Planned Parenthood's funding would take days, but it's clear that the organization has been under attack for decades — sometimes in a tragically literal manner. Let's hope that this doesn't hold true for the future.