COLUMBIA, S.C. (Christian Examiner) — With only two days left until the South Carolina Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump's opponents are spotlighting his support for Planned Parenthood, running television ads quoting his own words and labeling him as out of the mainstream of Republican beliefs.
Trump's position on Planned Parenthood is nothing new, but he added fuel to the issue Saturday night when – in front of a nationwide audience – he defended the controversial organization during the GOP debate.
"It does do wonderful things but not as it relates to abortion," Trump said.
At issue is whether Trump supports withdrawing federal funds from Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. He has implied on several occasions that he backs federal funding for Planned Parenthood, provided the money does not go toward abortions. That position puts him at odds with the GOP-led House and Senate, each of which passed a bill that would defend Planned Parenthood. President Obama vetoed it in January. But on other occasions, Trump has said he would favor defunding the group.
Planned Parenthood performed 327,000 abortions in fiscal year 2014.
Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz launched a TV ad this week showing an undercover video of a Planned Parenthood official drinking wine as she discusses receiving money for body parts from unborn babies. A narrator says, "Planned Parenthood treats the unborn like another form of currency, and yet some politicians still defend them." The ad shows pictures of Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, implying that their positions are identical.
"Planned Parenthood serves a good function," Trump says on screen in the ad. The clip was taken from an August 2015 interview with FoxNews' Sean Hannity.
During that interview with Hannity, Trump bucked the predominant conservative view.
"Let's say there's two Planned Parenthoods, in a way," Trump said. "You have it as an abortion clinic. Now that's actually a fairly small part of what they do, but it's a brutal part and I'm totally against it and I wouldn't do that. They also, however, service women. ... We have to help women. A lot of women are helped. We have to look at the positives, also, for Planned Parenthood."
That same month, Trump said in an interview on CNN, "I would look at the good aspects of [Planned Parenthood]. ... I would look at other aspects also, but we have to take care of women. We have to absolutely take care of women. The abortion aspect of Planned Parenthood should not be funded."
Trump's position – as stated in the Fox News and CNN interviews – appears to support funding as long as it does not pay for abortions. That would mirror current law, which technically does prohibit federal funds from paying for abortions. But as the pro-life website LiveActionNews.org reported, the federal money for Planned Parenthood is fungible.
"Planned Parenthood cannot legally use taxpayer dollars for abortions, but money is able to be used for other services, thus freeing up funds for abortions that much more easily," the website said. "And even if PP never uses one cent of federal dollars for abortions, many Americans feel that their hard earned money should not be going to an abortion provider, regardless of what other services the money is used for."
Defunding Planned Parenthood, the website said, would allow other women's health clinics that don't perform abortions to receive federal money.
Yet still on another occasion – in a September 2015 interview with FoxNews' Bill O'Reilly — Trump backed the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
"I wouldn't do any funding as long as they are performing abortions," Trump said. "And they are performing abortions. So I would be opposed to funding — I would be totally opposed to funding."
Trump's spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, seemed to defend that more nuanced stance during an interview on CNN Monday.
"Mr. Trump has said that Planned Parenthood does do cervical cancer screenings, and that is a good thing when you are a poor, single mom in a neighborhood that doesn't have access to these other clinics," Pierson said. "However, Mr. Trump is whole-heartedly against abortion funding, and we do know that if Planned Parenthood does continue to receive federal funds from the government, that those funds are fungible. So there has to be a way to say, look, no more abortions or go start a different clinic. But the federal government should not be funding abortions."