The Planned Parenthood Fight Republicans Don’t Need But Can’t Avoid

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The Obamacare repeal effort will inevitably involve the denial of women’s health-care services and reproductive rights. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Among the many issues participants in the International Women’s Day strike are concerned about is the availability of women’s health services, including abortion services. And so it is appropriate that political heat surrounding Republican plans to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood is one of several challenges threatening the new House GOP blueprint for repealing and partially replacing Obamacare.

It is unclear at this point how many Republican members of Congress would actually vote against the American Health Care Act — as Trumpcare is formally known — solely on grounds of its Planned Parenthood “defunding,” though at most it would be a few House members and two senators (Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska). Collins is the only surviving Republican senator to have voted against the “dry run” Obamacare-repeal legislation of 2015 (subsequently vetoed by President Obama) on grounds of its Planned Parenthood provisions. If this were the only controversy surrounding AHCA, it probably would not be fatal, even if Collins and Murkowski both defected, since two Democratic senators, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have voted to defund Planned Parenthood in the past.

But the real peril represented by the conservative obsession with destroying Planned Parenthood is that it might only take one defector — again, Collins is the most likely — in combination with other senators who have other issues with AHCA to deny Republicans the 50 votes they need. So far the ACHA, which is being opposed by a vast array of advocacy groups, including such major forces as AARP, is not tempting any Democrats to cross the line to give Republicans a cushion. Thus if, say, Rand Paul (who has denounced the new plan as “Obamacare Lite”) and Mike Lee oppose AHCA from the right and Collins opposes it from the left, it could be dead, even if Mitch McConnell and the White House somehow manage to keep waverers like Ted Cruz and Lisa Murkowski in line.

Republicans do not, moreover, have the luxury of taking out the Planned Parenthood provisions, even if they promise to enact them separately. That would be a deal-breaker for a significant number of conservatives, and an act of betrayal for anti-abortion activists. And worse yet, separating the Planned Parenthood fight from the Obamacare debate would mean efforts to defund the organization would shift to the appropriations process, and to the must-pass bill that will be needed to fund federal operations after the old omnibus funding measure expires on April 28. Since Democrats can filibuster appropriations bills, another Planned Parenthood fight in that arena could definitely produce gridlock and maybe even another government shutdown, which is the last thing Republicans need.

So no matter what other “adjustments” are made with the AHCA to shore up Republican support on the left or right or to seduce Joe Manchin into supporting it (maybe some special deal for West Virginia akin to the infamous “Cornhusker Kickback” that won Ben Nelson’s vote for Obamacare), the GOP’s health-care bill is most definitely going to bear the red badge of shame associated with the vengeful effort to deny women life-saving and rights-respecting health-care services. That’s a deal with the devil the GOP made a long time ago.

The Planned Parenthood Fight Republicans Can’t Avoid