It may have been the debate for the lowest-polling candidates, but in the so-called happy hour debate of Republican presidential hopefuls, no one wanted to be outdone in their disdain for Planned Parenthood.
“This is absolutely disgusting, and revolts the conscience of the nation,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said of secretly-recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing fetal tissue research. “We just, earlier this week, kicked them out of Medicaid in Louisiana as well, canceled their provider contract,” Jindal said. Then, seemingly undermining his case that the undercover videos related to his decision, Jindal added, “They don’t provide any abortions in Louisiana.”
Following the debate, Planned Parenthood released a statement “fact-checking” Jindal. “Bobby Jindal’s attacks on Planned Parenthood are purely political,” the statement reads. “Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood does not currently provide abortions in Louisiana, Jindal is attempting to end Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood – an act that courts have roundly rejected in the past.”
Meanwhile, Jindal stopped short of explicitly saying that he would be willing to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding, a move promoted by several other candidates, including frontrunner Donald Trump. “I don’t think President Obama should choose to shut down the government simply to send taxpayer dollars to this group,” he said.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who was deemed the only pro-choice Republican, was asked if the videos had “changed your heart” on abortion. He quickly moved on to the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood and then abruptly returned to abortion.
“You know, Hillary Clinton’s always saying how Republicans don’t follow science? Well, they’re the ones not listening to the scientists today, because doctors say that at 20 weeks that is a viable life inside the womb,” Pataki said. “And at that point, it’s a life that we have the right to protect, and I think we should protect.”
Republicans have generally advocated for bans on abortion at 20 weeks on the rationale that a fetus can allegedly feel pain at that point, disputed by medical evidence. Less common is the argument that 20 weeks is viable. The most commonly used point is 24 weeks, though one study recently found that “a tiny minority of babies born at 22 weeks who were medically treated survived with few health problems, although the vast majority died or suffered serious health issues,” The New York Times reported.
Sen. Lindsey Graham had the most sudden pivot of all on the Planned Parenthood question. He began on message: “I don’t think it’s a war on women for all of us as Americans to stand up and stop harvesting organs from little babies,” he said, referring to a legal process by which women can donate the fetal remains after abortion for the purpose of medical research. Then he returned to his core competency: Foreign policy.
“You want to see a war on women?” said Graham. “Come with me to Iraq and Afghanistan, folks. I’ve been there 35 times. I will show you what they do to women.” The rest of his answer focused on putting troops on the ground in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Rick Santorum tied together his opposition to the Supreme Court’s opinions on abortion and same-sex marriage, and revived his contention that the Supreme Court does not have the final say in government. “One of the times the Supreme Court spoke that I thought they were acting outside of their authority was in a partial-birth abortion case,” he said, pointing to a law he championed, the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban on a particular later abortion procedure.
“Well, the Supreme Court found a bill that I was the author of unconstitutional,” Santorum continued. In fact, they found a Nebraska state law unconstitutional in 2000. “We passed a bill, and we said, ‘Supreme Court, you’re wrong.’ We’re a coequal branch of the government.‘ “ The bill in question was the federal version George W. Bush signed into law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.
“Sometimes it just takes someone to lead and stand up to the court,” Santorum concluded.
The implication was that Santorum and the rest of Congress had overruled the court. But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent in that case upholding the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, Gonzales v. Carhart, what actually changed was that the very conservative Justice Samuel Alito replaced the more moderate Sandra Day O’Connor. That, of course, is something a president can do to change a Supreme Court decision.