At its root, the recent and ongoing controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood is about fetal-tissue research. That’s not necessarily good news for the group’s Republican critics.
Sure, abortion is the underlying issue, but as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explained this week, “If you think abortion is murder, then of course you object to the use of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses. If you don’t, then you think it’s fine. There’s nothing new going on here. It’s just a slightly different twist on the same fight between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that’s been going on for decades.”
I think that’s right, though there’s an additional complication: up until about a week ago, Republicans were on record supporting the very fetal-tissue research they’re now outraged by. It’s a detail House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reminded GOP leaders about yesterday.
“When [legislation] was passed enabling research to go forward, I remind that Mitch McConnell voted for that,” she said at a news briefing Thursday in response to several questions about Planned Parenthood’s undercover video controversy. […]Pelosi refers to legislation passed in 1993 that allowed federal funding to be used for medical research involving fetal tissue, under certain conditions.
The law prevents abortion providers from turning a profit, but it also permits providers to make tissues available for scientific research.
And for Republicans exploiting deceptively edited videos, this poses a real problem. For one thing, there’s no evidence of Planned Parenthood ever profiting from fetal-tissue research. For another, there’s also no evidence of the healthcare group making tissues available to anyone but medical researchers.
And finally, plenty of prominent GOP leaders actually voted for the bill that made this possible. The Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett had a great report on this earlier in the week:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fast-tracked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood on Friday because of an undercover video of a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing the donation of fetal tissue after abortions. But McConnell was one of many Republicans who voted to lift a ban on fetal tissue donations after abortions in 1993 – the very move that legalized Planned Parenthood’s actions.In 1988, the Reagan administration began a moratorium on fetal tissue from elective abortions being used in scientific research. But Congress lifted that ban in 1993 when it passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which allowed research on human fetal tissue regardless of whether the tissue came from a voluntary abortion.
The report added, “The 1993 law explicitly allows for the kind of compensation Planned Parenthood staffers discuss in the video.”
This is no minor detail. In practical terms, Republicans are now effectively arguing, in hysterical terms, “We’re outraged that Planned Parenthood is doing exactly what Congress authorized the group to do!”
In fact, I dug up the roll call from the 1993 vote on the legislation – which passed 93 to 4 – and saw that quite a few Senate Republicans who are still in Congress helped pass the bill. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) .
Now, it’s certainly possible these GOP senators have changed their minds. They shouldn’t – fetal-tissue research is extremely important and stands to help a lot of people – but maybe they look back at their 1993 legislation as a mistake. In fact, if congressional Republicans want a renewed debate over the merits of fetal-tissue research, that’s their right.
But that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, GOP lawmaker are apoplectic, literally threatening a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, because they’ve seen videos that reminded them that fetal-tissue research has been legal and common for the last 22 years.
And that’s a posture that’s very hard to take seriously. Nancy Pelosi’s right – now seems like an ideal time to remind Republicans of their own record.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.