Last month’s deadly shooting attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and accusations that Republican criticism of the women’s reproductive health organization helped fuel the violence are likely to bring renewed attention to the party’s stance on federal funding for abortion clinics during Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate.
Though all of the would-be Republican nominees have denounced the shooting, their positions on Planned Parenthood have ranged from branding the group as “barbaric” to — in the case of front-runner Donald Trump — promising to give the defunding issue a bit more thought.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whose popularity has surged in recent polls, has been one of the most vocal opponents of Planned Parenthood. In August, he led a series of conference calls with pastors across the country to mobilize churchgoers in the fight to cut taxpayer funding to the group. He also wrote an email distributed by the American Renewal Project, a conservative pastors’ group, in which he referred to “the recent exposure of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices.”
A series of sting videos made by the the Center for Medical Progress, a California anti-abortion group, captured Planned Parenthood employees discussing the use of fetal tissue for medical research, which pro-life activists said was proof that it was harvesting fetal organs for profit. Planned Parenthood has said the videos are doctored and that the conversations are misrepresented, but Republican lawmakers wanted to revoke the group's federal funding.
Cruz rejected the possibility that the recent violence in Colorado Springs might have been inspired by anti-abortion rhetoric. In fact, he suggested that Robert Lewis, the alleged shooter, was a “transgendered leftist activist.” Dear later admitted to the shootings in court and said he was a “warrior for the babies.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was also highly vocal in the congressional push to defund Planned Parenthood. He called for a tougher investigation into the videos in October, and has accused Planned Parenthood of encouraging women to get abortions. “Now what you've done is created an industry, now what you've done is created an incentive for people to be pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit,” Rubio told a local TV station in Iowa.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson has also been adamant in his opposition to Planned Parenthood. In July, he accused the group of being “an organization whose founder believed in eugenics.”
In August, he told Fox News that “one of the reasons that you find most of their clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find ways to control that population.”
Planned Parenthood has said Carson is "wrong on the facts" and “flat-out insulting,” and that Margaret Sanger's belief in eugenics was concerned with women's right to choose when and whether to have a child.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump has been more equivocal. He said, in an August interview, that he agreed “the abortion aspect” of Planned Parenthood should not receive government funding but did not necessarily support defunding the entire organization. “I'm sure they do some things properly and good, good for women, and I would look at that,” he said in an interview with CNN.
During the fight over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush drew anger from women’s health advocates when he said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”
Weeks later, Bush claimed the group “is not actually doing women’s health issues.”
Both Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have bragged about withdrawing state funding from Planned Parenthood during their tenures as governor.
Perhaps the harshest vitriol against Planned Parenthood has come from former Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer Carly Fiorina. During a September GOP debate, she claimed to have watched a particularly gruesome sting video filmed at a clinic in which an aborted fetus wriggled on a table and a surgeon discusses harvesting its brain.
Such a video doesn’t exist, but Fiorina has stood firm in her position on Planned Parenthood, and says the videos were not edited. Last Friday, when an interviewer accused her of painting an “unfair picture” of the group, she retorted, “Look, nine video tapes have come out about Planned Parenthood. It is very clear what they have been doing. And in fact, Planned Parenthood several weeks ago made a quiet little announcement that they would no longer accept compensation for what they call ‘fetal tissue.’ That's about as close to an admission as you can get.”