Washington Post: Planned Parenthood as 2012 football

This article originally appeared online at The Washington Post on June 30, 2011.

Planned Parenthood as 2012 football
By Rachel Weiner

While the high-profile congressional fight over Planned Parenthood’s funding is over, the group is still engaged in a number of legal battles across the country, fights that could become an issue in the 2012 elections.

In states like North Carolina, Wisconsin and South Dakota, legislatures have begun to pass laws specifically targeting Planned Parenthood, either defunding the organization entirely or drastically cutting its funds.

And just as the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative-minded group that opposes abortion, hopes to turn Planned Parenthood funding into a litmus test in 2012 —the group has a line insiting on defunding the organization in a pledge it is pushing all 2012 candidates to sign — Democrats argue that the issue will hurt Republican presidential candidates with female voters.

“The pushback and the guttural reaction from women against the Republicans agenda out of the gate, the war on women that the Republicans have been waging since they took over the House, I think, is going to not only restore but possibly help us exceed the president’s margin of victory in the next election,” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters last month.

According to the organization’s statistics, one in five women has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic. Republicans did better with female voters in 2010 than in any election since 1982; Democrats need to reverse that trend if they hope to win 2012.

Democrats argue that Republicans have taken a radical tack and will pay for it at the polls; GOPers contend that voters are already on their side and that politicians who aren’t willing to follow along will pay a political price.

There’s poll data to bolster both arguments.

According to a CNN poll released in April, 65 percent of Americans oppose cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. But the same poll found that 61 percent of respondents opposed using public funds for abortions when a woman cannot afford one. Public opinion on abortion has always been sharply divided, and it remains one of the most divisive issues in the country.

That chasm suggests that Planned Parenthood — and Democrats — have succeeded in making the debate about women’s health, rather than abortion rights. Opponents argue that clinics not affiliated with Planned Parenthood can cover the other women’s health services Planned Parenthood provides. Whoever wins that fight will likely reap the benefits at the polls.

For now, the fight is a legal one, but the high-profile cases are likely to keep abortion rights and the Planned Parenthood fight in voters’ minds for the forseeable future.

Planned Parenthood is fighting a law signed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) that cuts off all Medicaid funds for the organization. It’s illegal for states to pick and choose Medicaid providers under federal law, and Planned Parenthood sued. A judge blocked key aspects of the state’s law; the state’s attorney general is appealing.

Planned Parenthood is suing in Kansas over funds cut off by the state. The group is suing in Montana to have birth control covered by the state’s low-income insurance program.

The group has also asked for an injunction in South Dakota against a law that would require women seeking abortions to wait 72 hours and undergo counseling at centers that discourage the procedure.

Even as Planned Parenthood fights measures in some states, similar bills have sprung up in others. Texas is set to defund Planned Parenthood in a way the state thinks will avoid legal repercussions; if the Lone Star State succeeds, it would be the largest state to do so.

Wisconsin eliminated funds for nine Planned Parenthood clinics just this week. A few weeks ago, Tennessee reallocated federal family-planning money from Planned Parenthood to local public health departments. Days after that, North Carolina’s legislature overrode a veto from Gov. Bev Perdue (D) of a budget that defunded Planned Parenthood.

And in Congress, the Title X family planning funds that Planned Parenthood relies on were cut as part of a deal to avert a government shutdown in April, leading to clinic closures in Minnesota.

Both sides see the ongoing legal skirmismishes in Indiana and North Carolina as key litmues test for the issue going forward..

“Indiana is a bellwether without question,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. She said that in 2012, the group will target Democrats who opposed defunding. “The Perdue race is a top priority for us,” she said. “She should be very worried.”

Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood vice president of public policy, said that Perdue “has shown huge backbone and I think that’s going to engage and make her supporters more enthusiastic.” (The governor’s numbers are currently lagging with her Democratic base.)

Planned Parenthood supporters also see an opening in Wisconsin, the most Democratic-leaning state to target the organization and one with actual elections coming soon, in the form of this summer’s recalls.

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