Senate misses its 'William Wilberforce' moment; will not defund Planned Parenthood

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Mike Blake)Protesters stand on a sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California, August 3, 2015. Planned Parenthood was the focus of a largely-partisan U.S. Senate debate on Monday. Congressional Republicans tried unsuccessfully to cut off Planned Parenthood's federal funding.

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – A bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the abortion provider plagued by four undercover videos showing its doctors negotiating the sale of aborted fetal body parts, stalled today after failing to receive the votes necessary for cloture, a parliamentary move to end debate and send the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who introduced the bill, said on the Senate floor the bill was necessary because of Planned Parenthood's "callous and morally reprehensible behavior." While some senators might prefer to ignore the videos, she said, she believed Americans should not have to pay for the abortion provider's "sheer disdain for human dignity and complete disregard for women and their babies."

Under the bill, all funding for Planned Parenthood would have been eliminated in the federal budget, but the bill would not have ended funding for women's health care or make any effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, it would have transferred all monies set aside for Planned Parenthood to other women's health care providers – such as hospitals and community health clinics.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) said earlier in the day while senators were debating the bill that the Senate had been presented with a "William Wilberforce moment." Coats said Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian from 1784-1812, undertook the effort to abolish slavery in England after – as Wilberforce himself put it – "a career of doing nothing of purpose."

"I believe today, just two hours from now, we will have a William Wilberforce moment facing the United States Senate," Coats said. "The bottom line is that we are talking about an organization that is embracing the dismembering of a human life with taxpayer support."

"Do we want to support an organization with taxpayer funding that treats human body parts like a product on the shelf of a store?" Coats asked.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who co-sponsored the bill, said the legislation was "the beginning of the fight to regain America's conscience." He echoed Ernst, who said the bill was not about eliminating abortion, which the Supreme Court regarded as a right in Roe v. Wade. It was, however, about taxpayer funding for abortion – an act proscribed by law since 1976.

Cornyn said women's health care would have been enhanced by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood because there are 13 community health centers for every one Planned Parenthood office nationwide. The $528 million provided to Planned Parenthood would have been distributed to those locations.

"An organization that so callously reduces our most vulnerable to spare parts has no part in taxpayer funding," Cornyn said.

Sen. and presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) also said there were 9,000 clinics around the country who could provide women's health care, but the time has come for the nation to chose whether it is concerned with life and whether or not there is someone greater to answer to for life. Paul said in a statement prior to the vote:

"These videos are hard for anyone to defend, and they pull back the curtain on Planned Parenthood's callous actions that strike the moral fabric of our society. The American people have just cause to be horrified by the actions of Planned Parenthood. Protecting the most vulnerable in our society is an important measure of any society."

I believe today, just two hours from now, we will have a William Wilberforce moment facing the United States Senate. ... The bottom line is that we are talking about an organization that is embracing the dismembering of a human life with taxpayer support.
- Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)

But Democrat opposition to the bill was strong, as expected, with several senators claiming a "public health crisis" would ensue if the abortion provider was defunded.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was another Republican attempt to "trick" senators into limiting access to women's health care and, if passed, the demand for care would still be present. Reid, who said – ironically so – that the Republican Party had "lost its moral compass," claimed the bill would have left women with nowhere else to go for reproductive care and other services.

"The Planned Parenthood bill isn't going anywhere in the Senate," Reid said.

"A Republican war on women"

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also said the bill to defund the abortion provider was "doomed to fail."

Blumenthal said the bill was misguided because there are so many significant issues that should be in front of the Senate. He called the bill a "sham" and a "political charade" and "a stunt" by Republicans aligned with the "most extreme of anti-choice activists."

The Connecticut senator also said only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's work has been related to abortion, so it did not make sense to him to eliminate $528 million in taxpayer funding, which benefits 64,000 women in his state – most of them low income.

Sen. Angus King Jr. (I-ME) also said he opposed the bill because it was not a bill about abortion, but the sale of fetal tissue. King said senators could have the debate on fetal tissue in research, but Ernst's bill, he said, was "like attacking Brazil after Pearl Harbor."

"It is a vigorous response, but the wrong target," King said.

A fiery response to the Republican bill came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), often mentioned as a future Democrat presidential contender. Warren asked Republicans if they knew what year it was. She said it was not 1955 or 1895 when women were controlled by "backward looking ideologues."

She also claimed that the Republican bill was not the result of "a surprise reaction" to the Planned Parenthood undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress. It was instead, she said, the result of a "deliberate, methodical and orchestrated right wing attack" on a woman's right to control her body.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also said she was also tired of men telling her about premature pregnancy and "using pregnancy as a political football." She said the bill was a "continuation of the Republican war on women." 

Only one Democrat senator said he would vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) issued a statement which said:

"Like many West Virginians, I am very troubled by the callous behavior of Planned Parenthood staff in recently released videos, which casually discuss the sale, possibly for profit, of fetal tissue after an abortion. Until these allegations have been answered and resolved, I do not believe that taxpayer money should be used to fund this organization; instead those funds should be sent to other health care providers, including community health centers, which provide important women's healthcare services. While my vote is one that will prevent taxpayers dollars from going to Planned Parenthood, I will remain committed to ensuring that all women in West Virginia and America receive the health care services they need," Manchin said.

Just prior to the vote, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who had introduced his own bill to defund Planned Parenthood last week, asked if it was possible that the culture had been wrong about life. "Is that a child?" Lankford asked, before telling the story of a friend whose wife gave birth to a premature, 14 oz. child – the same size child being sorted in a dish in a recent Planned Parenthood video. Now, the child is a 14 pound baby outside of the womb, the same as it was a child inside the womb, Lankford said. 

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