What a howl it was yesterday when a phalanx of House Republicans staged a hearing about Planned Parenthood. Their witch hunt was so hapless that even folks on the right got embarrassed.
Fox News pundit Guy Benson, an editor at the conservative Town Hall site, tweeted:
Reading poor reviews of GOP panelists' questions in Planned Parenthood hearing. Ill-prepared & uncoordinated. Inexcusable.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 29, 2015
Emily Zanotti, digital editor at the conservative American Spectator site, tweeted:
Say what you want, this GOP freak show of a Planned Parenthood hearing is embarrassing. Can we have actual experts testify, please?
— Emily Zanotti (@emzanotti) September 29, 2015
Sean Davis, a co-founder of the conservative Federalist web magazine, tweeted:
Can you imagine if this band of incompetent morons had been in charge of prosecuting the Nuremberg trials? My goodness what a farce.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) September 29, 2015
So true. The House Oversight Committee — which is supposedly investigating the tiresome right-wing claim that PP sells fetal body parts for profit — summoned CEO Cecile Richards to the star chamber for the purpose of beating her up. Which the Republicans did, by shouting and interrupting her at every turn, thus confirming the old adage that “if you don’t have the facts, pound the table.” Basically, they did what they typically do best: Accomplish nothing, except for setting their hair on fire.
There are two big reasons why this hearing was (to borrow conservative Sean Davis’ words) “a farce,” and I’ll get to those later. But first, a few examples of ignorance in action.
PP conducts roughly half a million breast exams every year — its clientele is mostly low-income women — but the panel Republicans (virtually all the GOP members are men, natch) said that PP’s health care is lousy, because its affiliates don’t have mammogram machines. The panel Republicans don’t seem to understand (why would they? they’re virtually all men) that no primary care physicians or ob/gyn doctors perform in-house mammograms. The way things work in the real world: If a PP breast exam raises a red flag, the PP physician refers the patient to a radiologist.
Another great moment was when GOP congressman Glenn Grothman recycled the claim that if the feds stopped giving PP $500 million a year, women would just find the same health services elsewhere. He put it this way: “When I look at cities around me that have a Planned Parenthood clinic — usually in those cities, as a guy, I could go to many clinics locally that have all the machines that one would need.”
“As a guy,” perhaps he’s right about guy services. But as a Republican guy, he’s clueless about how women would fare if PP was ever defunded. Studies show that PP — which serves 2.7 million women a year — has a disproportionate share of the public health caseload, and that community health centers lack the resources to step in. And PP is reportedly the sole provider of publicly-funded contraceptives in 103 largely rural counties.
But the best moment yesterday was when GOP congressman Jason Chaffetz posted a chart that purported to show that, during the last few years, PP’s breast exam caseload is wayyyy down and that its abortion caseload is wayyyy up. Did Cecile Richards care to comment?
She replied, “I have no idea what that is.”
Chaffetz insisted, “That’s what’s going on in the organization.”
Richards replied, “(It) absolutely does not reflect what’s happening at Planned Parenthood.”
Chaffetz insisted, “I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports.”
Richards replied (munch popcorn for this one): “Excuse me. My lawyers have informed me that the source of this is Americans United for Life, which is an anti-abortion group. So I would check your source.”
Chaffetz (pausing and stuttering): “Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that.”
Homer Simpson, translating Chaffetz: “D’oh!”
But enough laughs. I promised you the two big reasons why this hearing was a farce. It’s important to remember that the committee is supposed to be investigating the claim that PP illegally sells fetal body parts for profit; hence the hearing. But none of the Republicans yesterday saw fit to acknowledge the salient fact that not a single state has uncovered a scintilla of evidence that PP has done any such thing.
Yesterday, in fact, Missouri’s attorney general announced that, after auditing every PP procedure and reviewing 3500 pages of documents, there is “no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility is selling fetal tissue.” That jibes with the probes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, South Dakota, Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts — plus Idaho, which simply said, “Since there is no evidence that a crime has been committed, there are no grounds for a legal investigation.”
And yesterday’s hearing was a farce because none of the Republicans saw fit to acknowledge the obvious: That if PP is defunded and thus loses a lot of its caseload, millions of low-income women will lose their access to contraception, which translates into more unplanned pregnancies — and more abortions. Health care experts have been warning about that for years. It’s obvious just by crunching the numbers. According to a Guttmacher Institute study, PP is a major recipient of federal family planning money; those services, in 2013 alone, prevented roughly 345,000 abortions.
I know that the House Republicans need an enemy, but it does seem a tad tin-eared to harass — with no basis in fact — a health care organization that enjoys mainstream popularity. The latest Pew Research Center poll, released yesterday, reports that 60 percent of Americans want PP to keep its federal money. And that sentiment is even stronger among swing-voting independents (64 percent yes, 29 percent no). But alas, we know from long experience that factual stats don’t penetrate the bubble.
So this faux-war will likely continue. Perhaps Planned Parenthood has an affiliate in Benghazi.