A Government Shutdown and the Future of the Right-to-Life Movement


by Carol Tobias, President
National Right to Life

WASHINGTON (September 18, 2015) – The government’s fiscal year begins on October 1. A lot of news stories are being written about whether or not the government will shut down on that day because members of Congress and pro-lifers want to defund Planned Parenthood.

We know that Planned Parenthood is a vile organization. It kills more than 300,000 innocent preborn children every year. The videos released this summer by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) have given us a unique opportunity because they exposed Planned Parenthood for its callous practices and the trafficking of body parts from aborted babies.

It makes sense that pro-lifers would want elected officials to take away every cent Planned Parenthood gets from tax-funded programs. Nobody wants to defund Planned Parenthood more than National Right to Life does.

The right-to-life movement now finds itself at a crucial crossroads.

There are two different roads that we can take. One is to insist that no more money go to Planned Parenthood and cause a government shutdown (which won’t result in actually defunding Planned Parenthood). The other is to take a slightly longer-term approach, taking advantage of the fact that we have the attention of the country as probably never before, laying the foundation to defund Planned Parenthood after we elect a pro-life president in 2016, by conducting hearings and passing a series of bills that will not only educate the American public about Planned Parenthood, but make members of Congress show, by their votes, if they support the largest abortion provider in the nation.

As a movement, we can only choose one of those roads. We must choose wisely, and we must choose quickly, because this unique window of opportunity will not last long.

So, the questions before us are: 1) how can we achieve our goal of defunding Planned Parenthood and educating the public about their massive abortion business; and 2) how can we avoid missteps that will actually hurt our efforts?

National Right to Life believes that the evidence points to the wisdom of taking the second road – namely, taking advantage of this chance to shine a light on Planned Parenthood and the entire abortion industry and educate the American public about their callous disregard for unborn babies and the women they purport to “help” through the sale of their deadly service.

Why do we believe this is the wisest road to take? Let’s look at some of the basic realities:

  • A September 9, 2015, Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “Obama and Clinton want a showdown over Planned Parenthood,” states, “[m]ost Americans know the organization [PP] as a women’s health clinic, not as the country’s largest abortion provider. The videos and Congressional hearings are slowly changing that public misperception, but a standoff that becomes a shutdown will inevitably focus the public on the shutdown, not the videos.” The column points to an August Quinnipiac poll, and recent history, showing that a shutdown would damage Republicans in Congress, not the Democrats or President Obama.
  • According to a Fox News poll, amazingly only 49% of American voters had either watched or heard of the CMP videos. Maybe a few more people have seen or heard of them since that poll, but too many Americans don’t even know what the fuss is about.
  • On September 14, CNN released results for a nationwide poll conducted September 4-8. That poll found 58% of respondents believe abortion should be illegal, or legal in only a few circumstances. (Those numbers showing a majority of Americans opposing the vast majority of abortions track with other polling conducted recently by Gallup and The Polling Company.) CNN asked another question of respondents about which is more important for Congress to do: “[a]pproving a budget agreement that would avoid a government shutdown” or “[e]liminating all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.” A large majority—71%—said it was more important for Congress to avoid a government shutdown. There is no category—age, gender, income, education, party or philosophical affiliation—that supported a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood.
  • Additionally, as LifeNews.com reported recently, a study by the Congressional Research Service found that the majority of federal funds flowing to Planned Parenthood would not even be temporarily interrupted if the government shut down over this issue, because the funds flow through “entitlement” programs such as Medicaid – and those entitlement programs do not do not depend on enactment of the annual funding bills.

It is also important to understand that federal spending bills do not include any “line items” that specifically designate money for Planned Parenthood. Rather, Planned Parenthood affiliates tap into funds from big programs like Medicaid and Title X. In order to deny Planned Parenthood such funds, a new law must be enacted to specifically prevent such funding. But for Congress to approve such a law will require 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, to overcome the filibuster.

An August vote showed that at most, 55 senators are willing to defund Planned Parenthood. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the 45 senators who support Planned Parenthood will change their minds or that a government shutdown will convince at least five senators to switch their position. In reality, in a shutdown context there would be less than 55 votes against Planned Parenthood, not more.

There’s an alternate legislative process, known as “reconciliation,” that may provide a route by which the Senate could approve a partial cutoff of funds to abortion providers, by a simple majority vote. National Right to Life fully supports any such “reconciliation” strategy, which would not risk a government shutdown and the resulting political damage to our allies.

However, any bill—funding bill or reconciliation bill —can be vetoed. And that is exactly what will happen if any such bill that contains an anti-Planned Parenthood provision reaches the desk of President Obama. The grave reality is we currently have a pro-abortion ideologue occupying the Oval Office. There is no prospect whatever of achieving the two-thirds vote required to override a veto in either house of Congress, much less in both. The grim fact is this: in order to defund Planned Parenthood, we must have a pro-life president.

But, should the “battle” be fought anyway, even though it is a battle that President Obama cannot lose? That is the course that some commentators and some lawmakers are advocating. But let’s consider what could happen if Congress were to refuse to fund the federal government, in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

President Obama issued a statement that he will veto the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, if passed by Congress. Obama’s subservience to the abortion lobby is so complete that he now threatens to use his pen to protect the abortionist who would kill a baby born alive, rather than to protect that helpless baby.

So yes, President Obama would be willing to shut down the government, take money away from the military, take money away from the national parks, and put millions of federal employees on leave. He will do anything and everything to keep that money flowing to Planned Parenthood.

How long would the government be shut down? Two weeks? Two months? Six months? 15 months? I do not believe that Obama will “cave” to demands to sign legislation that blocks funding for Planned Parenthood, no matter how long he has to wait for the situation to be resolved—especially since he knows that every day that shutdown continues, Republican approval numbers will sink in the polls.

At the same time, the mainstream media will not talk about Planned Parenthood killing unborn children, or the CMP videos. They will, instead, uncover every story to demonstrate how hurtful a government shutdown is to ordinary Americans—and how the blame lies with every pro-life Republican in Congress.

You will hear stories about children denied access to medical treatment or a military family unable to pay their bills or family vacations ruined because of national parks being closed. And will President Obama care about any of the stories that the press might uncover during a shut down? Absolutely not.

Every well-informed pro-lifer wants to defund Planned Parenthood. I want to defund Planned Parenthood. There are wonderful pro-life men and women in Congress who want to defund Planned Parenthood. And, certainly, National Right to Life wants to defund Planned Parenthood. The difference here is in strategy.

National Right to Life is looking at the bigger, long-term picture. We need a pro-life president who will work with us to take away the tax dollars that flow to this repulsive, immoral organization. We need a pro-life president who will appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will allow legislators to restore legal protections to unborn children. We need a pro-life president who will work hand-in-hand with the right-to-life movement to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are protected by our laws.

All of these goals are more easily and effectively achieved if the 71% of American voters opposed to a government shutdown aren’t angry at the pro-life candidates running for president.