Planned parenthood, planned shutdowns and Speaker step-downs

Billings Gazette

by Editorial

Where would the Republicans be without abortion?

Anything abortion related – that most trusty of all issues that galvanizes the base and angries up the blood, even in the midst of GOP circus for a presidential candidate.

It also proves just how far astray politics has gotten from running the government. It’s not that abortion isn’t and hasn’t been an important issue. Yet in terms of issues that voters care about and things that affect the lives of Americans, it’s small. Just using the most recent abortion statistics, abortion affects less than one-half of one percent of women. The way the federal government works affects 100 percent of us. It’s just another all-too-frequent example of misplaced priorities and pandering in politics.

This is how bad it is: On Friday, Speaker of The House John Boehner stepped down amidst growing right-wing dissatisfaction about what some in his own party consider is too moderate of an approach. That same disgruntled sentiment believed that he was a terrible leader. The irony is that his act of stepping down may have averted a federal government shutdown (more on that later, though). His crime? Working with Democrats. His reward? Stepping down in order to make sure the government keeps open. So, if you’re keeping track: He sacrifices his own prestige for the good of the country – and gets booted.

Washington, D.C., might do better with more of that kind of leadership.

But D.C. has been no case study in leadership lately.

Righter-wing Republicans have been itching for a fight with Planned Parenthood about tissue harvesting. We wouldn’t argue that it’s an important issue that needs discussion and exploration. By the same token, to let any group stand in the way of keeping the federal government running is ludicrous.

Holding the business of the entire federal government at the expense of what is a small organization is not noble, it’s foolish. It’s not principled, it’s painful.

The operation of the federal government is no insignificant thing. Like it or not, we need the smooth operation of the federal government for so many aspects of our daily lives. Not so with Planned Parenthood. In fact, in many ways, the Republican showdown about the shutdown really gives Planned Parenthood much more credit than it deserves. To think this one small organization could end up bringing the entire government to a close is a very real example of why there’s such a distrust of Congress.

Averting a shutdown didn’t change the fact that the Planned Parenthood issue is still out there. Nor did it change that we once again drew too close to a shutdown.

If you think about it, Congress really only has one job – that’s the business of the federal government. In a stunning example of how backward our political system has become, instead of finding reasons to shut down the government, our elected leaders should be ferociously guarding against anything that would shut it down. Instead, they seem to make any disagreement fodder for a shutdown.

Planned Parenthood should receive scrutiny. Reporting on tissue harvesting is a sensitive subject with serious biomedical ethics ramifications. It’s good that Congress cares about those issues. And, it’s right that Congress should scrutinize spending.

However, anyone who believes it’s a choice between funding Planned Parenthood or shuttering the federal government is sadly mistaken. There are ways to address funding concerns and keep the government running. The problem seems to be it’s too much of a hot-button, polarizing issue to make a stand on as we ramp up to political campaign season.

It also conveniently villainizes Planned Parenthood, while disregarding the other important services it provides. In many communities, Planned Parenthood provides other services – not just abortions. In many areas, it provides health care for women who would otherwise have fewer options. It would seem that a more strategic congressional move would be to figure out how to get Planned Parenthood to continue offering more good services and target those practices that have caused such a firestorm of concern. Not only does shutting down the government hurt employees and those who need its assistance, but it also hurts women and families that may receive care through Planned Parenthood and are left with fewer options. Moreover, some have made the logical misstep of assuming anyone who is pro-choice favors abortion. In many instances, believing that a woman should have the freedom to choose isn’t tacit support of a procedure that is, quite frankly, exceedingly rare when compared to other means of birth control.

Let’s not forget that in addition to thousands of acres of federal lands, Montana is also heavily reliant on tourism of national parks and forests. The last time the federal government was closed, it meant tourists – some of whom traveled the globe to get here – couldn’t enjoy Montana. Not only did it send the wrong message, it hurt local business.

If Montanans can’t trust our congressional leaders to keep the government open, we can’t help but wonder what issues should we trust them with?