See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
Ever since anti-choice activists released deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood, Republican members of Congress, especially presidential hopefuls like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have jumped at the excuse to loudly and publicly attack the health-care provider.
Paul and Cruz both introduced amendments defunding Planned Parenthood to a must-pass highway funding bill, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a 2016 hopeful, ordered an investigation of the health-care provider in his state.
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Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced a bill to put a moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding for a year, unless they stop performing abortions. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) introduced a similar bill, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, in the House.
The response from Democrats has been somewhat muted, however, and progressives are urging pro-choice legislative leaders to more aggressively support Planned Parenthood before anti-choice narratives gain too much traction.
A petition from the progressive activist group CREDO Action released Tuesday morning urges Democrats to “stand strong” against Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood, for fear that the issue could spiral out of control and become the next ACORN.
“Democrats have to push back now,” the petition says. “They need to go on the record in support of Planned Parenthood’s work and speak out to discredit these orchestrated attacks. And they must block any attempts to undermine or defund Planned Parenthood in Congress.”
“Everyone needs to be aware of the important role Planned Parenthood plays in providing reproductive health care to poor women and women of color, and attacks that threaten access to that care are unacceptable,” Pamela Merritt, co-founder of Reproaction, told Rewire via email. “The New York Times editorial board has figured out how to step up, and I think we shouldn’t accept anything less from the Democrats.”
Many Democrats are indeed going on the record in support of Planned Parenthood. But most are addressing the issue only in response to reporter questions, and some have been more equivocal than others in their defense of Planned Parenthood against CMP’s attacks.
The strongest Democratic pushback so far is coming from the House.
Four House Democrats, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY), wrote a letter Wednesday asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP, stating in no uncertain terms that they believe the group may have broken several laws. Nadler called the videos a “witch hunt.”
At a Thursday press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the “controversy doesn’t exist” and that Republicans are just seeking another excuse to target Planned Parenthood.
“It’s got a Benghazi feel to it, for me,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA).
“Republicans’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are cold, political attacks that would put the health of millions of Americans at risk,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said in a statement to Rewire. “We must fight back against misinformation in order to ensure every woman has access to safe, affordable and accessible healthcare.”
“That anti-choice activists are relying on deceptively edited surreptitious recordings is nothing surprising or new,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney told Rewire in a statement.
“Planned Parenthood has spoken clearly on the specific circumstances surrounding this video, and I will let their experts explain for themselves,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, said in a statement to The Hill last week. “Circumstances of this video aside, people need to understand the important research that specific tissue types contribute to.”
DeGette has been more reserved in other interviews, and did not respond to a request for comment by Rewire. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the other co-chair, also did not respond.
Senate Democrats have also seemed cautious.
“These politically motivated videos raise questions, but nothing I’ve seen indicates that Planned Parenthood violated federal law,” Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said at a Tuesday press conference.
“I support Planned Parenthood, but I don’t know the details,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) Tuesday.
Aides to Sens. Patty Murray (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Al Franken (D-MN) told Rewire that they would oppose attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in the Senate.
Murray said she didn’t want her wounded veterans bill to “become a vehicle for partisan political attacks” and pulled it after Republicans loaded it down with anti-Planned Parenthood amendments.
With regard to Paul’s amendment to the highway bill, said spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua, “Senator Gillibrand would vehemently oppose it should the amendment reach the floor.”
Franken’s statement to Rewire, similar to the stances of many other Democrats, praised Planned Parenthood but didn’t go as far as denouncing or debunking attacks against the group from either Republicans or CMP.
“The services [Planned Parenthood] provides are essential to helping people decide whether and when to start a family, and while I understand that people have very strong feelings about this issue, I urge everyone to resist the impulse to let politics stand between a woman and her health care,” Franken said.
Progressive advocates said that while some of the Democratic response is encouraging, more is needed.
“We feel the pushback needs to be broader, stronger and more public, without hedging or caution or insistence on sticking to a safe script,” Heidi Hess, campaign manager at CREDO Action, told Rewire. “Our view is that if Republican extremists will stop at nothing to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion entirely, then [Democrats] need to be just as determined to protect women’s access to safe abortions and to defend the institutions that are not only providing vital reproductive health care to millions of women a year but are fighting back every day against Republican attacks on women’s rights.”
“Leadership is not burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away,” said Erin Matson, co-founder of Reproaction, in an email to Rewire. “The Democratic Party platform strongly and unequivocally affirms the right to abortion and reproductive health care more generally. Many Democrats use this issue as candidates to collect their votes, and that means they have a duty to step up and be leaders.”