Al Franken’s Not-So-Funny Planned Parenthood Endorsement

Amie Newman

Progressive senatorial candidate and former entertainer Al Franken has had a rocky relationship with women's groups and female legislators. But his campaign got a boost with the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and others this week.

I worked for Al Franken for one day back in the early 1990’s. I was an aspiring television producer (I am aware of how lame that sounds) and freelanced in New York City, picking up work that was even remotely related to television production. Through some contacts, I was given a one-day job answering phones for Al Franken, when he was still a television comedy writer.

Since then, Al Franken has had a prime role in the formulation and growth of the progressive, political radio network Air America. Now, Franken is running to represent Minnesotans in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat against conservative, Republican Senator Norm Coleman.

But for some progressive groups and Democratic legislators, Franken’s past has been difficult to hurdle. Back in June 2008, Planned Parenthood sent an email to the Minnesota DFL calling an essay Al Franken had written a few years ago "misogynist" and "degrading to women," signaling discontent with Franken’s ability to represent the women of his state as Senator.

U.S. Representative Betty McCollum said about Franken’s material, "As a woman, mother, a former teacher and an elected official, I find this material completely unacceptable."

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But, according to the Minnesota Independent today, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota (PPMNS) Action Fund and Rep. Betty McCollum, along with other legislators, have endorsed Franken and are ready to work to ensure a win for Franken against anti-choice, social conservative Norm Coleman.

PPMNS Action Fund president Sarah Stoesz said last week, "We believe Al Franken is the U.S. Senate candidate that Minnesota women and families can count on to protect and strengthen their health and rights. We know that Al Franken will stand with Minnesotans on reproductive health and on affordable and quality health care for all."

As Rewire reports, on our Election 2008 page, while Franken does not have a record to track on reproductive and sexual health and rights issues, his opponent, Senator Norm Coleman has consistently received a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Coleman has voted against funding for family planning clinics abroad and opposes access to abortion services for women in this country.

PPMNS spokesperson Tim Stanley, on Minnesota Independent, said that it was the clear differences between Franken and Coleman on these issues that caused PPMNS Action Fund to endorse Franken:

"The answer was clear: Al Franken will stand up for women’s health care," he said. "He will be a leader in improving access to quality health care for women and will support and protect a woman’s right to choose. Planned Parenthood intends to defeat Norm Coleman in the fall, and Al Franken is the candidate to do just that."

 

For more on this race and other key Senate and House races, the Presidential election and reproductive and sexual health and rights related ballot measures, visit our newly updated and re-designed Election 2008 page!

Analysis Politics

It’s Christie’s Anti-Choice Record—Not His Planned Parenthood Donations—We Should Be Worried About

Ally Boguhn

Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has spent the last few weeks amid a flurry of controversy over an alleged donation he made to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s. But the governor’s record on reproductive health is getting lost amongst the chaos.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) created one of the most talked-about and fact-checked moments of last week’s Republican debate when, in order to question the candidate’s conservative credentials, he accused rival Chris Christie of making a donation to Planned Parenthood.

Christie flatly denied the claim, countering that he “never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.”

And it wasn’t the first time a donation to the reproductive health organization made by Christie had been called into question. During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation a week before the debate, Christie was asked by host Josh Dickerson about his donation to Planned Parenthood after Rubio made the same charge while speaking at a rally in New Hampshire.

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“Well, I never donated to Planned Parenthood. So, that’s wrong,” Christie quickly asserted.

Rubio’s allegation was likely based on a quote from Christie in a 1994 report on the Morris County freeholder race that ran in New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, in which the then-candidate voiced his support for Planned Parenthood:

“I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations,” said GOP freeholder candidate Chris Christie.

“It’s also no secret that I am pro-choice … But you have to examine all the agencies needing county donations and prioritize them. I would consider all groups looking for funding, but there is a limit and we have to pick and choose,” he added.

Christie has since denied that the conversation took place as reported. “I never donated to Planned Parenthood,” Christie asserted when asked about the donation during an interview with the Washington Post a few days before the debate.

“Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago,” Christie continued. “I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.”

According to the Post, Christie insisted that at the time of the Star-Ledger interview, he was talking generally about donating to causes, not specifically saying that he had donated to Planned Parenthood.

As fate would have it, that same reporter Christie claims to have misquoted him, Brian T. Murray, is now one of the governor’s current spokespeople. Murray has yet to respond to Christie’s allegations, according to NJ.com.

We will likely never know for sure whether Christie actually made the donation to Planned Parenthooda representative from the organization told the Washington Post that it does not disclose donationsbut a definitive answer to the question seems besides the point.

Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.

In the early 1990s, when the Star-Ledger interview allegedly took place and Christie was initially running for state senate, he was vocal about his support for reproductive rights. It wasn’t until 1995, when his wife was pregnant with one of his children, that the presidential candidate claims to have had a change of heart.

“I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life,” Christie told Piers Morgan in 2011 during an appearance on CNN.

“And it—it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.”

But in 1996, Christie yet again vocalized his pro-choice position when asked by the Bergen Record about a resolution to override then-President Bill Clinton’s veto of a “partial-birth abortion,” or intact dilation and extraction, ban. “I’m pro-choice, but I think this procedure is reprehensible,” Christie told the paper, according to Politico, one year after he supposedly decided he no longer supported abortion at all.

In a strikingly similar move to his current situation, Christie would later tell the Associated Press in 2009 that he had been misquoted at the time.

In a February 2015 report for the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi questioned Christie’s “convenient” evolution on abortion politics, citing many of these inconsistencies on the issue. “It’s worth considering that around the time Christie had his epiphany, he was badly losing a Republican primary for the state assembly to a staunchly pro-life conservative named Michael Patrick Carroll,” Nuzzi noted.

No matter his personal views, Christie’s record during his tenure as governor is decidedly more black and white.

After taking office in 2010, Christie eliminated $7.5 million in funding from the state budget for family planning services. That money “supported a variety of health centers, including some run by Planned Parenthood, that provided access to preventive health screenings and birth control but did not directly fund abortions,” and led six reproductive health clinics to close, according to NJ.com.

The drastic reduction in funding for health centers led the state to experience a significant setback in reproductive health care. An analysis conducted by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association found that the budget cuts, coupled with federal funding cuts to Title X programs, left New Jersey with upwards of 20,000 more women in need of publicly funded contraceptives and a 26 percent decrease in the state network’s ability to meet the demand for them.

Although the state legislature has repeatedly attempted to restore the funding to the state’s budget, Christie has consistently vetoed these measures.

And now on the campaign trail, Christie is using his anti-choice record to help drum up conservative votes.

During CNN’s GOP debate in September, Christie bragged about how he had never allowed Planned Parenthood to be funded under his leadership: Six years ago, as the brand new, first-ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood,” he asserted.

“I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding now eight times in New Jersey. Since the day I walked in as governor, Planned Parenthood has not been funded in New Jersey. We stood up, and every one of those vetoes has been sustained,” he continued. 

A fact-check of the claim conducted by NJ.com found the “gist of the claim” to be true, pointing to numerous occasions Christie has vetoed efforts that would have provided funding at least in part to Planned Parenthood, but noted that Christie “appears to be conflating his opposition to the Medicaid expansion with the annual budget line-item vetoes” to exaggerate the numbers.

Christie has repeatedly voiced his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, pointing to his own state as an example for how it should be done.

Speaking in South Carolina in September, Christie urged Congress to defund Planned Parenthood the same way he had. “If I can do it in New Jersey, there’s no reason our party can’t do it in Washington, D.C.” Christie said at the Take Back America Presidential Forum.

Christie has also vocalized his support for Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at this point in pregnancy, claiming that the legislation “brings Americans together.” Medical experts note that many fetal anomalies are not discovered until the 20th week of pregnancy, and that low-income women are disproportionately impacted by 20-week abortion bans. 

“America is one of just seven countries that permits elective abortions past this point. We can do far better than this. I urge Congress to take swift action on this important issue,” Christie said to anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony’s List in a statement on the bill.

So while Christie’s past donations may remain murky, one thing is as clear as ever: Christie is far from pro-choice and he has the record to prove it. Even if the road to Christie’s current stance on abortion isn’t clear, his record is—and those extreme viewpoints are what we really need to be talking about.

News Violence

Advocates: Accused Planned Parenthood Shooter’s Outburst ‘Not a Coincidence’

Jason Salzman

Pro-choice advocates say that last week's in-court outburst by Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is further proof that anti-choice rhetoric contributed to the November 27 killings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Colorado pro-choice activists, who claimed in a news conference that anti-choice rhetoric has incited clinic violence, now say that an in-court outburst by the accused shooter in November’s attack at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., is further proof that such rhetoric contributed to the November 27 murders.

“Kill the babies, that’s what Planned Parenthood does,” Dear told the judge during a court hearing last week, according to media reports, which disclosed that Dear appeared to be mentally unstable and had a history of violence and abuse. Dear said in one outburst that he is a “warrior for the babies.”

Dear reportedly said “no more baby parts” when interviewed after his November 27 arrest.

“I think Dear’s comments remove any doubt as to what his motive was,” Amy Runyon-Harms, director of ProgressNow Colorado, said in an email to Rewire. “Elected officials who use over-the-top rhetoric in an effort to appease their base need to think twice before doing so and recognize the impact their words have on others.”

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Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, agreed.

“The attacks have gotten worse, and the fact that the gunman repeated the same rhetoric about ‘baby parts’ we’ve heard from abortion opponents is not a coincidence,” Middleton told Rewire. “Words have meaning, and people inclined to violence can act on that meaning in awful ways. The result here is that an Iraq war veteran, a mother of two, and a police officer lost their lives, and six children lost their parent.”

After Dear’s court appearance last Wednesday, during which he admitted his guilt, Planned Parenthood issued a statement expressing sorrow about the tragedy, along with concern that the onslaught of political attacks on Planned Parenthood motivated the violence.

“We know that words matter,” Vicki Cowart, director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in the statement. “It is time to put an end to the dangerous rhetoric that has permeated our political conversations. Enough is enough—this violence, whether inflicted with words or with weapons, cannot become our normal.”

Activists at a December 1 news conference in Colorado named three anti-choice politicians as those using rhetoric that contributed to the shooting in Colorado Springs. Each was quoted by activists as condemning Planned Parenthood in the months after the release of discredited videos by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress.

One of the lawmakers, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Republican from Colorado Springs, told a radio host after the shooting that Planned Parenthood executives have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as Dear.

Asked if that means there’s no difference between Planned Parenthood officials and Dear, Klingenschmitt said via email, “I’ve been consistent in my statements calling for an end to ALL of the violence, not just half of the violence as the pro-abortionists do. They remain inconsistent in their calls to end some violence, while they engage in violent behavior against children behind closed doors.”

Dear was formally charged in El Paso County District Court on 179 counts, including eight counts of first-degree murder.