Republican candidates condemning Planned Parenthood – and arguing over whether the government should be shut down over the organization’s defunding – was predictable enough in Wednesday night’s primary debate. What was more unusual was Donald Trump directly confronting Jeb Bush over his apparent neglect of women’s health.
In August, Bush said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” He later said he misspoke. In their latest push to defund Planned Parenthood, congressional Republicans have taken pains to say they plan to redirect women’s health funding from Planned Parenthood, not eliminate it, although experts question whether other providers have the capacity to fill the gap.
“I think it will haunt him,” said Trump on Wednesday night. ”I said, wow, I can’t believe it,” Trump said of watching Bush’s comments, then claimed, “I will take care of women. I respect women. I will take care of women.”
When Bush struggled to defend himself, Trump persisted: “Why did you say it? I heard it myself. Why did you say it?”
The candidates diverged when it came to how far to go on in their zeal to defund Planned Parenthood. “I agree that we should defund Planned Parenthood,” said Kasich, but then he added, “When it comes to closing down the federal government, you gotta be very careful about that…the American people are gonna shake their heads and say, ‘What’s the story with these Republicans?’” In all recent polls, Planned Parenthood has remained highly popular, despite the release of a series of videos of its executives discussing fetal tissue donation in a way anti-abortion activists and politicians say incriminates the organization.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that the Republican leadership had begun by “preemptively surrendering.” Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner have dragged their heels on defunding Planned Parenthood, apparently reluctant to spend political capital when President Barack Obama has vowed to veto any bill containing such a measure.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina tried to turn the focus back on the Democrats. “Here’s the problem, we’re – we’re fighting with each other up here,” Christie said. “We agree. Let’s ask Hillary Clinton. She believes in the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts.” Clinton has called the videos “disturbing” but defended the organization as having “provided essential services to women.”
Fiorina offered the most graphic description. ”As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Although the videos do contain some footage of aborted fetuses, no videos have shown any part of what Fiorina described.