What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Planned Parenthood funding fight fires up the campaign trail

Undercover videos by anti-abortion activists have ignited a campaign among Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates to defund the women's health organization Planned Parenthood. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

Read the Full Transcript


    But, first, the battle over Planned Parenthood is heating up this week, as opponents of abortion rights released more undercover videos and held weekend protests. Meantime, Planned Parenthood itself launched a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana's attempt to cut its funding.

    All of this is having an effect in the race for the White House.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • And a warning:

    It contains some graphic images.

  • WOMAN:

    Today, we are standing in solidarity.


    Early morning Saturday, an hour when only the devoted would gather, and opponents of abortion rights have nearly 200 of them here in nation's capital, protesting against and praying at this upcoming Planned Parenthood clinic, banners up, battle-ready, this scene repeated across the country this weekend from Portland, Maine, to Las Vegas, Nevada.

    All told, organizers say tens of thousands turned out, many of course motivated by recent controversial videos on YouTube.

  • REV. PATRICK MAHONEY, Christian Defense Coalition:

    These videos were not made up. These videos are so powerful.


    Planned Parenthood's opponents mean these videos, undercover videos by anti-abortion activists posing as businessmen trying to buy fetal tissue. Critics say these show Planned Parenthood as a heartless organization motivated by money. CECILE RICHARDS, President, Planned Parenthood: I'm Cecile Richards.


    In its own video, Planned Parenthood denied that, saying it cares for millions of patients. The organization points to edits in the undercover videos that left out their worker clearly saying they do not sell fetal tissue.

  • SEN. RAND PAUL Republican Presidential Candidate:

    Whatever you make of them, the videos are a lit match in a heated campaign year. Republicans are eager to be anti-Planned Parenthood. There is absolutely no need for any public funding of Planned Parenthood. There is no excuse for it.

  • CARLY FIORINA Republican Presidential Candidate:

    There is no excuse. Planned Parenthood must be defunded.


    Jeb Bush caused a stir yesterday at a Colorado town hall when he turned to say this:

  • JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    I for one don't think they should get — that Planned Parenthood ought to get a penny, though, and that's the difference, because they're not actually doing women's health issues.



    Planned Parenthood's annual report shows the bulk of their services are women's health, things like STD testing, cancer screening, and that abortions are only 3 percent of their services.

    Democrats are jumping to be pro-Planned Parenthood and in the same breath anti-Republican.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    I think it is regrettable that Republicans are, once again, trying to undermine, even end those services that so many women have needed and taken advantage of.


    In other words, both sides are winning, by firing up their bases.

  • DAVID DALEIDEN, Anti-Abortion Activist:

    David is the anti-abortion activist behind the undercover videos that are building crowds on his side. Abortion politics and protests are not new, but he believes his videos have sparked a new shift in the debate. It's completely changing the way that we talk about abortion and unborn children in America. I think that — I think it's really causing a sea change in how that conversation happens, and that's a good thing, because it's a conversation that's needed to happen for a long time.


    Go to Planned Parenthood's offices in Washington and vice president Dawn Laguens will tell you they also feel a wave of momentum their way.

  • DAWN LAGUENS, Executive Vice President, Planned Parenthood:

    People are dropping off boxes of doughnuts and bundles of flowers to our health care providers to say, thank you for what you do every day. And so that's what we see. I mean, the irony of these attacks on us is, they actually tend to get more people saying, oh, I didn't know this was at risk, I care a lot about this, and I'm going to stand up for it. LISA DESJARDINS: You are seeing donations going up?


    Everything is going up.

    DREW HALFMANN, University of California at Davis: Abortion became sort of a key litmus test both in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party. LISA DESJARDINS: Drew Halfmann, a professor at the University of California at Davis, studies abortion politics. With these videos, there's another factor at work, he says. The videos touch the American middle ground. DREW HALFMANN: You have had people who were very supportive of abortion rights, on the other side, people who are very anti-abortion, and then in the middle a large number of Americans, the majority of Americans, who support the right of abortion, but you know, have some issues with abortion. LISA DESJARDINS: Enter risk for Republicans like Texas Senator Ted Cruz who are hard-charging against Planned Parenthood.

  • SEN. TED CRUZ Republican, Presidential Candidate:

    And I call upon the United States Congress right now today to stand up and lead and to defund Planned Parenthood.



    Cruz has held rallies on the issue and announced last week that he would push the U.S. Senate to defund Planned Parenthood in September. The federal government funds over $500 million or 41 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget. By law, that money cannot pay for abortions.

    Cut that funding, and you would potentially cripple Planned Parenthood. That's no problem for Republicans. What is? Other numbers. A recent Reuters poll showed that some 54 percent of Americans overall support funding Planned Parenthood. But now look at a key swing state, Florida, which could decide the primary and the election. In a Quinnipiac poll this week, Florida Republican voters overwhelmingly said they want to defund Planned Parenthood.

    But ask all the voters in the state, and the majority switches. Most want to keep the funding. Polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania show the same potential risk, Republicans go one way, general election voters the other.


    I think it's interesting to watch the Republican candidates try to outdo each other. So, it may provide some leverage for Senator Cruz, for example, who's the — really sort of the most radical on this issue. I think it can definitely benefit him with the base, the people who vote in the primaries.

    In terms of the general election, you know, I think this could really advantage Hillary Clinton.

  • WOMAN:

    It's enough to just defund Planned Parenthood, but we need to defeat Planned Parenthood.


    Back at that morning protest in Washington, ask organizer Lauren Handy about the risk of losing the White House if Republicans push too hard to close Planned Parenthood, and she will give you a direct answer.

  • LAUREN HANDY, Protester:

    If that costs your election, then that costs your election. And sometimes we do have to take the consequences that follow with being bold.


    Both sides are gearing up for a hot September. Planned Parenthood is considering a national bus tour and a new series of ads. Meantime, their opponents have planned a Capitol Hill rally. It's an issue hitting Congress that could also loom large in the presidential elections, both primary and general.

    Lisa Desjardins, PBS NewsHour, Washington.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest