Since anti-abortion advocates released a series of selectively edited and highly misleading videos in 2015 intended to give the false impression that Planned Parenthood clinics inappropriately profit from the sale of aborted fetuses, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly tried to cut off all federal funding that goes to the health non-profit. But as the 2018 midterms draw near, few Republican House candidates in swing districts are talking about it at all — even those who are running explicitly anti-choice platforms.
ThinkProgress examined the issue pages on candidates’ websites and their posted campaign ads, focusing on the 100+ House Republican incumbents and candidates in districts identified by the Cook Political Report as competitive this November. While about half of those candidates touted their “pro-life” views and records, just 13 indicated to voters their desire to defund Planned Parenthood and/or other facilities that perform abortions. The only incumbent Republicans facing competitive re-elections who explicitly advocated for defunding were Reps. Rod Blum (IA-1), Troy Balderson (OH-12) Scott Perry (PA-10), Pete Olson (TX-22), and Dave Brat (VA-7).
Even Rep. Karen Handel (GA-6) has carefully avoided the topic of federal defunding. Handel’s unsuccessful 2012 crusade to stop the Susan G. Komen foundation’s support of Planned Parenthood put her in the national spotlight and ultimately lead to her resignation as the group’s vice president. Today, the “pro-life’ section of Handel’s campaign issues page completely omits any mention of Planned Parenthood or that controversy.
Most of those who expressed a desire to pull funding from Planned Parenthood couched it as opposition to abortion, even though virtually none of the federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood are used for abortion services. The vast majority of funds are Medicaid and Title X reimbursements for other medical care.
And while few of these Republican candidates in tight races are being candid about their intentions, the GOP hasn’t abandoned its desire to prohibit public money going to Planned Parenthood. As of September 13, 148 House Republicans were listed as sponsors or co-sponsors of H.R. 354, the “Defund Planned Parenthood Act.” This includes nearly two dozen incumbents seeking re-election in competitive races who do not mention this position on their campaign sites (as well as a few House Republicans who resigned their seats during this term for ethical and other reasons).
Moreover, nearly every House Republican voted to defund Planned Parenthood as part of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal legislation. While the legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate, both Vice President Mike Pence and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) have recently vowed to try again should the GOP hold on to Congress in the November midterms.
Why, given their nearly unanimous support for defunding, are so few swing-district candidates telling voters about their desire to do so? Probably because it makes them less electable: the public, according to polling, is strongly against the idea. A recent Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood. That’s well above the 20-something percent favorable rating the Republican majority in Congress currently boasts. Even higher percentages support allowing public funds to be used for services provided by the organization such as women’s health exams, prenatal care, and contraception — as high as 75 percent in one recent poll. Even a March poll conducted by Fox News found 58 percent of Americans viewed Planned Parenthood favorably. With more women and women’s rights driving much of the energy in the 2018 midterms, candidates stand to lose a lot more than they would gain running on this issue.
Beyond being unpopular, defunding Planned Parenthood would have disastrous consequences. It would actually cost the government more than $100 million over a decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. And, of course, it would mean a loss of affordable health care for millions of people. Indeed, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 3 American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic for health services. State governments that have attempted to defund it, such as Texas, have seen fewer people accessing contraception and, as a result, more unplanned births.
Kevin Griffis, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Votes, told ThinkProgress in an email, “Politicians know that defunding Planned Parenthood is incredibly unpopular…. And when politicians came after Planned Parenthood and the ACA last spring, millions of people protested and defeated the legislation.These politicians can try to hide their records all they want. Voters haven’t forgotten, and this November they’re going to prove it.”