It is abundantly clear by now that the Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood have nothing to do with enforcing the laws of the United States, for David Daleiden’s falsely-edited smear videos prove nothing about Planned Parenthood. Instead, they are just the latest example of right wing fringe extremism given a gloss of mainstream acceptability by helpful, gullible media organizations that have never really learned to cover science or technology issues without sensationalism. As state after state investigates the claims made against the organization and finds them utterly baseless, rabid believers nevertheless repeat Daleiden’s fictional accusations, and demand Planned Parenthood be defunded, just because the organization provides abortions. Too many news readers indulge the moronic both-sidesism that has metastasized throughout the Fourth Estate and refuse to call out the self-evident hysteria at work. Attacking abortion access was always the real goal of these videos: the right doesn’t really care whether the fetuses are whole or scrambled, or that Congressional Republicans set up the fetal tissue donations system, or that zero federal dollars pay for abortion procedures. The culture warriors simply object to the fact that abortion is still legal in America, full stop, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to change that fact, full stop.
Planned Parenthood is merely a convenient scapegoat around which the forced-birth activists have spent years erecting an entire apparatus of myth, slander, and stigma. I first encountered misquotes of Margaret Sanger while enduring a forced-birth sermon for college credit circa 1991, and the huckster act has not really changed much since then. Conservatives blithely repeat any falsehood which confirms their prejudices, and all too readily overlook the human consequences of their actions, such as the increased abortion rates that would ensue if Planned Parenthood stopped giving out contraception, or the poor women who get cut off from cancer screenings as the organization goes out of business in deeply-red states. There is absolutely nothing ‘pro-life’ about this behavior. Holding no more evidence of a crime than their own revulsion at the existence of abortion, Republican governors freely ignore federal laws to cut state family planning and health services funding, secure in the knowledge that they have pleased ‘the base’ and will never be held accountable by anyone who matters. This campaign is growing bigger all the time on the right, and not in spite of Planned Parenthood’s wild popularity but because of it. With polls showing that a solidifying majority of Americans supports abortion rights, the forces of social reaction are more desperate, more polarized, more willing to lie than ever before. That much is clear just from looking at the Republican candidates for president. And yes, it’s the same polarization phenomenon by which the wildly-popular Social Security program has also become strangely unpopular with Republican candidates, by which fringe white supremacist opposition to the 14th Amendment has become mainstream Republican opposition to ‘birthright citizenship,’ by which the raving borderline fantasies of the John Birch Society become all-too-serious state legislation against an Agenda 21 bogeyman.
It is the radicalization and consolidation of a social/political minority that rejects the verdicts of courts and history, and would substitute its own fairy tales for evidence-based policy, using a tyranny of unitary power to reverse American laws by at least a century.
The conservative war on the organization predates this latest hit job by many, many years: as governor, Jeb Bush cut funding to the organization and turned the money into ‘abstinence-only education,’ a sop to social conservatism in its most Luddite form, and an experiment that he wants to repeat in the White House. It was just one of the many ways in which Jeb Bush tried to substitute shame and humiliation for social science in his policies, and he’s by no means an outlier in his party. For months now, Republicans in Washington, DC have been trying to defund the Title X program which keeps organizations like Planned Parenthood operating; the very idea of planning parenthood is under deliberate and sustained attack. As exemplified in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, social conservatives and big right wing donors increasingly hold a medieval view of contraception as a source of sexual immorality rather than a proven means of preventing abortions and unwed births. Better, they say, to pass legislation allowing them to fire single moms and prohibit employees from using birth control, returning America to the pre-Murphy Brown days of shunning and social ostracism with an extra helping of pure meanness.
Nor will biotechnologies be left alone in the new Dark Age these forces promise to bring us all. Despite the fact that most people already benefit from fetal tissue research, despite the millions of lives already saved by well-known successes with fetal tissue, scientists are too terrified of violent forced-birth activists to speak out in defense of their experiments, while conservative media vomits forth a steady stream of pure denialism to pollute the atmosphere of our discussion. None of this is conducive to honest public debate of important issues in medical ethics; it only benefits the zealots bent on oppression, turning even the most intelligent conservative into a blithering moron. During the past week, neurosurgeon and ostensible scientist Ben Carson has denied that aborted fetal tissue is useful for research, denied the aborted fetal tissue in experiments with his name on the research papers, and denied any link to Planned Parenthood-abortion-related fetal tissue three times before the cock crowed — an incoherent display of partisan political terror from a candidate whose very profession is threatened by the enthusiastic outrage of the voters he is trying to win over.
Don’t be fooled, for the latter day witch-hunters are far more ambitious than to burn down just one organization for providing abortions. Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients donate their unused embryos to research all the time, leading some reproductive rights advocates to point out the glaring inconsistency with which such laboratories are treated by laws and activists compared to abortion clinics. But as this article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal demonstrates, that arrangement can easily change: just convince enough conservative readers that parents choosing which frozen embryos to keep, and which to throw away or donate, amounts to some sort of Chinese government-style “sex selection,” and Republican lawmakers will stick their noses right in these families’ business faster than you can say ‘pro-life.’ When Mike Huckabee promises to use federal troops to end abortion across the country, don’t think for a moment that his proposal for national uterus policing will come with any limits that protect doctors or scientists. Don’t imagine that IVF facilities and medical labs will be exempt, or that the closure of Planned Parenthood will mollify or satisfy the culture warriors, because that is not how witch-hunts work.