Commentary Abortion

On ‘Meet the Press,’ Priebus Lies About Reason for Texas Clinic Closures

Jodi Jacobson

Texas politicians have been telling us all along that they are passing onerous abortion restrictions out of concern for women's health. But today RNC Chair Reince Priebus said it was all about taxpayer funding of abortion, which doesn't exist in Texas. Hey, Reince? I'm confused.

Over the past ten years, anti-choicers have spread so many falsehoods in their quest to pass far-reaching, medically unnecessary, and personally onerous restrictions on safe abortion care that I believe they may now be confusing themselves about which excuse goes with which law. Even Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), and the nominal leader of all these policies, can’t seem to keep them straight. After all, this weekend, he told Meet the Press anchor Chris Todd that HB 2—the Texas law upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and responsible for closing all but eight women’s health clinics across the state—was the result of “taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Yes, really. He did.

I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth of most of the discussion between Priebus and Todd, during which Todd asked why none of the “new principles” laid out by Priebus in speeches this week—made up of various recycled GOP ideas like balanced budget amendments, privatization of healthcare and education,” “family life,” “religious liberty,” and securing the borders—are connected to any clear policies.

Because the really stupefying part of this interview came when Todd asked Priebus about the recent court decision on HB 2. Priebus’ response: It was just all about taxpayer funding of abortion. That’s it, ‘k? He really, really doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

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CHUCK TODD: One of the things in here that you didn’t mention, there’s a lot of social issues. Why was that?

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, we did talk about a strong family, we did talk about life, and we talked about family—

TODD: It seems like you’re nervous about it.

PRIEBUS: Well—

TODD: Are social issues working against you guys?

TODD: A court upheld a new law in Texas. One of the things about the Republican party is you don’t like a lot of regulation on businesses, except if the business is [an] abortion clinic. 80 percent of these abortion clinics in Texas are going to be basically out of business because of this new law. Too much regulation, is that fair? Why regulate on the abortion issue now until maybe the law is—and maybe wait until you win a fight in the Supreme Court where you outlaw abortion altogether. Why restrict a business now in the state of Texas?

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, you obviously have to talk to someone in Texas. But the fact of the matter is that we believe that any woman that’s faced with an unplanned pregnancy deserves compassion, respect, counseling, whatever it is that we can offer to be—

CHUCK TODD: But 80 percent of those clinics are gone. So that they have to drive 200 or 300 miles for that compassion?

REINCE PRIEBUS: No, look, listen Chuck. The issue for us is only one thing. And that’s whether you ought to use taxpayer money to fund abortion. That’s the one issue that I think separates this conversation that we’re having.

That’s the one issue? Really?

See, now this is really unclear. For several years now, right-wing GOP legislators, along with their Tea Party allies, have been passing laws restricting safe abortion care because, they say, they are so deeply concerned about women’s health, and because they really want women to know all the information. In fact, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called two special sessions in 2013 with the express purpose of passing HB 2, which he and other Republican leaders in the state claimed was all about medical safety (thereby calling for all clinics providing abortions to unnecessarily meet the same standards as ambulatory care centers); women’s health (all doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at local hospitals, even though hospitals won’t give them such privileges because to have them doctors must show a minimum level of complications never reached by legal, safe clinics); and FDA labeling and regulations (forcing an outdated standard of care on medical abortion that is no longer supported by any science anywhere). Numerous public health and medical associations all rejected these claims and fought against the law—because they kinda understand health—but Gov. Perry and Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst were sure they knew better, so the legislature passed the bill.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Texas also has the following restrictions in place:

  • A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
  • The use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited.
  • The parent of a minor must consent and be notified before an abortion is provided.
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
  • A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must show and describe the image to the woman. If the woman lives within 100 miles of an abortion provider she must obtain the ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion.

So, Reince, I am confused. Were you saying that all these restrictions are due to taxpayer funding of abortion? If so, I am even more baffled, because there is no taxpayer funding of abortion in Texas, except in rare specific circumstances. And if what Republicans really wanted to do was pass a law eliminating public funding for abortion in those circumstances—cases of life endangerment, rape or incest—why didn’t they say so in the first place and just focus on changing that part of Texas law?

Or are you so confused about the number of lies told by the GOP, anti-choicers, and their allies that you don’t even know why you support these laws, and you just do what you are told, never mind the havoc caused in women’s lives?

Knowing of your great respect and compassion for women, I am positive you’ll honor our need for clarification and reassurance that as you wield that proverbial trans-vaginal ultrasound, you know which end is up. So to speak.

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