Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is attacking Planned Parenthood in response to secretly recorded videos in which anti-abortion activists posed as buyers of fetal tissue. McConnell also is one of many Republicans who supported the use of aborted fetuses in medical research.
McConnell's votes in 1992 and 1993 came after a panel of medical ethicists concluded that fetal tissue donations had no bearing on a woman's decision to end a pregnancy. Congress overwhelmingly approved fetal tissue research, which receives $76 million in the latest federal budget.
As one medical ethicist explained, you can be against deadly car crashes and support transplanting the organs of car crash victims to save lives. Likewise, there's no inconsistency in opposing abortion, as McConnell does, while supporting the use of fetal tissue to save lives.
Since the 1930s, fetal tissue from elective abortions has been critical to developing vaccines against polio, chicken pox, rubella, shingles, hepatitis and rabies. Fetal tissue transplants show promise as a cure for blindness. Researchers seeking treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's use cells grown from fetal tissue.
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The law that McConnell voted for makes it illegal to sell fetal tissue for profit but allows compensating providers for their costs. Nothing in the videos supports the accusations that Planned Parenthood is profiting from distributing fetal tissue.
In fact, the most callous remarks come from the anti-abortion activists who were posing as buyers of human tissue and laboring to extract incriminating statements from Planned Parenthood doctors. In the heavily edited videos, one of the posers refers to fetal tissue as "product" and another says, "I want to come in and pay you top dollar." The Planned Parenthood doctor, who works in Denver, keeps talking about the importance of complying with the law, which also requires patient consent, but only after the woman has decided to have an abortion.
Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul and other presidential hopefuls, are accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking in fetal organs, an unsubstantiated claim aimed at churning up the anti-abortion base going into next year's primaries, after which the nominee will assure the general electorate that women's health is a high priority for Republicans.
McConnell last week teed up a pro-woman defense by insisting the Republicans want to protect "health services for women" while cutting funds to a "political group." McConnell calling Planned Parenthood "political" is a hoot. No one has done more to politicize women's health than Republicans in Congress, who have even tried to deny women access to contraceptives.
McConnell downplayed the impact of withholding Medicaid payments and federal grants from Planned Parenthood, saying the organization operates just two clinics in Kentucky. (He didn't mention that the clinics are in the state's most populous cities, Lexington and Louisville.)
Planned Parenthood, which does not perform abortions in Kentucky, did care for 4,723 patients in the state last year, most of whom are low income, in 8,901 visits. Kentuckians of both genders turned to Planned Parenthood for testing for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; cervical cancer screenings, and contraceptives
In 2011, the U.S. abortion rate reached its lowest point since 1973, and teen pregnancies are at historic lows. Kentucky's teen pregnancy rate declined 24 percent from 2008 to 2013 but is still one of the highest.
Those who care about women's health should work to expand access not shut down two important gateways to care. One sure way to increase abortions is to eliminate the prevention and education Planned Parenthood has provided Kentuckians for more than 80 years.