A Republican-led bid to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding failed in the Senate on Monday, as expected. The vote was 53-46, falling short of the 60 the measure needed to advance.
The bill failed mostly along party lines, though Illinois Republican Mark Kirk voted against the defunding, while Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted for it.
At issue was about $528 million the organization receives in direct federal funding and Medicaid reimbursements for women’s health services, including cervical cancer screenings, contraception, breast exams and testing for sexually transmitted infections. None of the funds go to abortion, but Republicans have long fought to punish Planned Parenthood for providing the procedure. They were given new fuel by the release of four secretly recorded videos that showed Planned Parenthood physicians discussing fetal tissue donation and reimbursement, which abortion opponents claim violates federal law. The organization has denied any wrongdoing.
“We respect the body of the woman,” said Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines. But, he added, “This not about the woman’s body. This is about a different body.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called the vote a “sham,” adding, “It is really, let me say bluntly, a political charade.”
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federal of America, said in a statement, “Tonight, the Senate sent a clear message: blocking millions of women, men and young people from seeking care at a Planned Parenthood health center is a political non-starter.”
Though the funding is safe for now, some conservatives are raring for another fight in the fall, threatening to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.
Sen. Susan Collins, a centrist Republican who had expressed reluctance to defund Planned Parenthood, which she said provided services that were irreplaceable in her state, nonetheless voted to proceed to debate on defunding it. On the Senate floor, Collins said that the “callousness with which Planned Parenthood employees described fetal tissue is appalling.” With Kirk and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, she has offered alternative legislation that would investigate Planned Parenthood facilities that participate in fetal tissue donation, “defund any affiliate or subsidiary…that receives any compensation for engaging in these activities.”
One senator skipped the vote, South Carolina Republican and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, who chose to attend a GOP candidate forum in New Hampshire instead. Graham previously took the lead in proposing a ban on abortion at 20 weeks. The other Republican senators running for president, Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, joined the candidate forum via satellite broadcast.
At the forum, many of the candidates set their sights on Planned Parenthood funding in light of the vote. Cruz said he hopes “very much that we see Republican leadership actually lead the fight to get it done and we stop funding Planned Parenthood.”
On Monday afternoon, Democrats offered a spirited defense of the organization, even as a few distanced themselves from the “tone” in the videos. The interchanges occasionally got personal. Although abortion was technically not at issue, the vote was clearly a proxy war over it, as Republicans lambasted Planned Parenthood for providing abortions and, with the consent of women, donating some fetal tissue.
“I gave birth to two premature kids and I just don’t like lectures from men about what it’s like,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, one of the leaders of the defunding effort, replied, “I’m a dad of two daughters. I had something to do with the birth as well.”
Many Republicans say that the services provided by Planned Parenthood can be replicated by other health providers. That, said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, “is like saying you can pour a bucket of water into a cup. It will not work.”
An NBC News poll released Monday found that Planned Parenthood had the highest favorability rating of any institution or politician in the poll. Though there is a partisan split – 69% of Democrats view it positively, while 54% of Republicans view it negatively – independents view it positively, 45%-25%.
Democrats promptly pounced on the pro-defund vote of New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican who is up for re-election in the independent-leaning state. Ayotte did not speak on the floor Monday. The Democratic National Committee issued a press release condemning her vote before the roll call had even concluded, and NARAL Pro-Choice America unveiled television ads it had prepared slamming Ayotte for it.