Why ‘pro-life’ Republicans keep failing to defund Planned Parenthood, and how to succeed next time
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WASHINGTON, D.C., August 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Last Thursday, we saw the latest in a long train of abuses by the supposedly pro-life party currently running both elected branches of government, as Sen. Rand Paul forced a vote to defund Planned Parenthood.
It failed 45-48, thanks in part to some admittedly poor timing – taking place just a week after Paul announced it, with the Senate going from blocking it to holding a vote the same day, the vote happened without the attendance of some solid pro-lifers who would have voted yes.
But better planning wouldn’t have saved it. The GOP has had the better part of two years since Donald Trump’s election, during which we’ve gotten budgets that still contained the blood money, with only the most half-hearted of gestures to make it look like Republicans were trying to keep their promise.
Worse, there’s been alarmingly little discussion of this among pro-lifers, and what little there is typically gets maligned by those more interested in making pro-lifers vote Republican than in making Republicans act pro-life. So let’s lay out how we got here, why it didn’t have to be this way, and what we had better do if we want our next shot to go any differently.
The requirement that regular bills get 60 votes instead of a simple majority to pass the Senate isn’t in the Constitution. It’s contrary to the Founders’ intent. It doesn’t prevent much bad policy when bad policy is mainly done through courts and executive fiat, rather than Congress. And the smart money is on Democrats nuking it the next chance they get anyway.
Trump wants to end it, and House Republicans are increasingly sick of their Senate counterparts squandering their work. I’m partial to abolishing it outright, but there are several ideas to preserve its original purpose without letting an election’s losers simply veto the policies America voted for.
Nevertheless it persists, because Sen. Mitch McConnell and a majority of senators are fanatically devoted to keeping it as-is. When asked, he mumbles about not wanting to “fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time.” Indeed, McConnell values some vague sense of institutional norms so highly that he started Trump’s presidency by telling House pro-lifers not to bother sending him pro-life bills at all.
Sadly, watching Congress spend 2017 failing to defund Planned Parenthood wasn’t enough to convince pro-lifers to demand change. And judging by how most groups are placing the blame for last week solely on pro-abortion senators, it seems nothing since has convinced our movement to reconsider.
The good news is that not every bill needs 60 Senate votes, which led GOP and pro-life leaders to agree that hitching to the Obamacare repeal wagon was the best path to defunding Planned Parenthood. The bad news is that (on top of being only a temporary, 85 percent defunding) the Obamacare side of the equation doomed it to failure.
Those bills died because in each case, at least one pro-life senator objected to the healthcare details. Those objections’ validity may be debatable, but the fact remains that pro-lifers had the votes for a clean defunding...like one of the three bills to be introduced and pass the House in the current session of Congress.
Forcing principled lawmakers to choose between harming one cause and helping another is a classic example of the swamp mentality Americans voted to start draining from Washington in 2016. We should demand that the next effort be comprehensive, permanent, and not tied to the divisive product of a rushed process.
Wolves in elephants’ clothing
The current GOP platform “affirm[s] that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.” Two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, spit on that declaration…and the party’s national leadership is apparently fine with it. Granted, absolute uniformity of thought is neither possible nor desirable. But on a matter of core principles and basic decency, shouldn’t there be some effort to enforce the party’s platform?
Trump, McConnell, the Republican National Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee all have roles to play here: applying pressure on Collins and Murkowski to do the right thing, publicly rebuking them when they don’t, punishing disloyalty through perks like PAC dollars and committee assignments, threatening to back primary challengers, and even floating censure or expulsion.
I can already picture the dirty looks that paragraph would get from Beltway types, but it really shouldn’t. Support for killing children absolutely merits official condemnation from a party that really believes its own platform, and past GOP leaders haven’t been shy about punishing lawmakers they considered overly conservative. Indeed, it would be nice to see McConnell meddle in a primary to help pro-lifers rather than the swamp for a change.
But nothing's happened to Collins or Murkowski, not even a Trump tweet. A search of the RNC and NRSC’s websites shows nothing but tangential mentions of Collins, and congratulations for Murkowski’s 2016 primary win. And these two still hold committee chairmanships!
Stop blinking first
After Paul’s amendment failed, history repeated itself as most Senate Republicans voted for the spending bill, Planned Parenthood and all. For years we’ve heard that such votes are unfortunate necessities to prevent – or at least, avoid the blame for – government shutdowns.
But where is it written that pro-lifers are “obstructionists” and pro-aborts are just trying to keep the lights on? Why should pro-lifers accept the blame for a handful of extremists’ refusal to pay the bills unless they can cut a check to the abortion industry at the same time?
Under Barack Obama, pro-life leaders rightfully urged the GOP to make defunding “non-negotiable.” Many conservatives advocated daring Obama to veto an abortion-free budget, letting him explain why Planned Parenthood was more important to him than everything else. That case today, when we have a president who is willing to sign pro-life budgets, is even stronger.
Past GOP Congresses have done it before and won on other issues, so if all else fails, pro-lifers should absolutely insist that Republicans call pro-aborts’ bluffs, then bring the case to the American people. Score the budgets themselves as pro-life votes. Force Planned Parenthood’s enablers to explain their priorities to their constituents, then let them decide whether the abortion lobby is worth sacrificing their careers.
Go to the mat for Life
This suggestion, like everything preceding it, ultimately boils down to a simple proposition: that fighting abortion deserves just as much moral urgency as our rhetoric projects. That means exhausting every tool at our disposal, trying new tactics when old ones fail for the umpteenth time, pushing back at least as hard as we get pushed, and yes, taking the occasional political risk.
Pro-lifers have to drag the GOP to a frank conversation about delivering results. Promises about “next time” can’t sustain a movement forever.