Why the vote to defund Planned Parenthood failed

A fifth graphic video was released from Houston Tuesday, one day after a Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood failed.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters about Planned Parenthood on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The Senate vote Monday on Sen. Joni Ernst’s bill to defund Planned Parenthood effectively failed. The bill was sparked by the four undercover videos filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, which show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the potential sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. The bill failed to obtain the necessary 60 votes to clear the threat of a filibuster, with a final vote of 53 to 46, stalling the legislation for now.

The vote split mostly along party lines, with two Democratic senators voting largely with the Republican majority, while only one Republican joined the Democrats. However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell changed his vote to “no” in order to preserve the ability to bring the bill up again. Only one senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, missed the vote.

Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, characterized the vote to prevent the organization from receiving more than $500 million annually from the federal government as an attack on women.

“Attacking this funding is attacking women who need preventive health care, including women who need cancer screenings and contraception. Congress should not allow politics to get in the way of lifesaving care,” Ms. Richards wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

But Republicans in the Senate highlighted the fact that the bill didn’t remove any funding for women’s health, but rather reallocated the funding that Planned Parenthood would typically receive to other community health centers around the nation.

While Republicans almost unanimously supported the bill, some felt as though the vote was coming too soon.

“It would be premature to totally defund Planned Parenthood immediately until we know more facts,” said Sen. Susan Collins, (R) of Maine, in a press release discussing her own legislation. Senator Collins’s alternative bill would have directed the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood for any legal violations, and report back to the Senate within 90 days. However, as debate for the Ernst bill did not obtain the necessary 60 votes to clear the procedural hurdle, discussion could not be opened on Collins' alternative bill either.

While the bill has stalled on the Senate side, and the House has recessed for the month of August, the videos are likely to be topic of discussion in the upcoming weeks that congressmen spend with their constituents. An additional video was released from Houston Tuesday. Additionally, the House will likely vote on its own legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, by removing Title X funding from the group. The family planning organization under fire is largely funded through Medicaid and Title X dollars. Congress has more discretion over Title X funding than over Medicaid funding, which is controlled jointly by the federal government and by state governments.

With the 2016 presidential election and congressional re-elections about 16 months away, both pro-life and pro-choice organizations are seizing on the concentrated attention on the abortion debate to galvanize support for their respective positions. 

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