Planned Parenthood is frequently a flashpoint in the fight over reproductive rights. Anti-choice lawmakers repeatedly push to defund it, demand investigations to make sure it’s not breaking the law, target its clinics to force them to shut down, and express skepticism whenever it partners with government initiatives like Medicaid or Obamacare enrollment. During the height of the War on Women, the national health organization became one of the biggest symbols of Republican-led attacks on women’s rights.
Despite the political contention swirling around Planned Parenthood, however, it’s not necessarily an organization that inspires widespread opposition. It’s not quite as controversial as right-wing figures typically pretend that it is — or as radical as anti-choice groups smear it as.
In fact, the majority of people in the United States don’t support defunding Planned Parenthood. After the 2012 election, polling found that Mitt Romney’s explicit anti-Planned Parenthood stance didn’t sit well with voters, 62 percent of whom didn’t support cutting off federal funding for the women’s health organization. A more recent poll found that the majority of Americans, and 60 percent of women, have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood. Predictably, those numbers rise among people who have had a personal experience with the organization, either if they’ve received health services there themselves or if they know someone else who has.
Even in Texas, where lawmakers have kicked Planned Parenthood out of the pool of state-approved family planning providers and dramatically slashed its funding over the past several years, the organization actually has quite a few backers. And they include Republicans.
Last week, news broke that Ross Perot — the Texas billionaire and former GOP presidential candidate — donated $1 million to Texas’ Planned Parenthood clinics through his family foundation. And as the Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg reports, Perot isn’t the first red state Republican to quietly support the organization. In June, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas received a $6.5 million donation from a Republican family that wants to remain anonymous. Ken Lambrecht, the affiliate’s president, told the Daily Beast that he has more Republican donors than any other Planned Parenthood affiliate in the country.
“These truly are the Barry Goldwater Republicans who believe in lesser government, including less government intrusion in our personal lives,” Lambrecht explained.
That’s why Planned Parenthood, which focuses the bulk of its funding on providing family planning and preventative health services for low-income populations, isn’t necessarily Enemy Number One for every GOP lawmaker. Last month, a rally in favor of the organization on Captiol Hill attracted lawmakers from both parties. And the group actually has a Republicans for Planned Parenthood chapter that works to engage its conservative supporters. Every year, Planned Parenthood awards the “Barry Goldwater Award” to a lawmaker who has “acted as a leader within the Republican Party to protect women’s reproductive rights across the United States.” This past year, that award went to Oklahoma Rep. Doug Cox (R), a practicing physician who has maintained that expanding access to contraception and legal abortion care is the right way to ensure women’s health and safety.
Far-right social conservatives have hijacked the conversation about reproductive and sexual health, but those political fights don’t always line up with public opinion. Planned Parenthood isn’t the only example. As a whole, comprehensive sex ed and family planning have extremely high levels of support, despite persistent attempts to drum up opposition to state-level initiatives to bring these resources to public schools. And when Planned Parenthood itself works to provide some of those sex ed programs, they’re typically well-received.