Senate Dems and Planned Parenthood — 2012 Scenarios

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

[See end of post for an update.]

In return for getting the Republicans to drop their demand that Planned Parenthood’s funding be set to zero, President Obama (and, presumably, Majority Leader Harry Reid) agreed to let the matter come up for a vote in the Senate, the House having already decided to eliminate the organization’s funding.

Republicans will, of course, frame the Senate vote as a referendum on abortion, which it is not, since abortion is a relatively small component of the variety of health services Planned Parenthood provides. If you look at the site, abortion is the first thing you see listed under “Health Info & Services,” right after Planned Parenthood Locations, but it’s the first service because the list is in alphabetical order, not because it’s what PP does most.

Actually, Planned Parenthood isn’t only about women’s reproductive health anymore, not that you’d know that from the venom that drips off the chins of some House Republicans when they speak of the organization. It’s not even only about women; the web site has a section on men’s health, and the issues addressed go beyond procreation there, as well.

Clearly, the House Speaker John Boehner, who extracted the Senate vote promise, knows a bill to defund Planned Parenthood hasn’t a snowball’s chance there. That’s not why he wants it to come to the floor; he thinks he’s throwing red meat to the anti-abortion voters in the 17 states where Democratic senate seats will be in play.

It’s no secret that the Democratic majority in the Senate is no sure thing after the 2012 elections. Twenty-one Democrats’ terms are ending, as are the seats of the two independents who caucus with the Dems. Of those, four Democrats and one of the independents are not running again. Across the aisle 10 Republican seats are opening, of which three will retire.

It would be fun to play guessing games about whose seats are safe and whose are in jeopardy, but it would be a waste of time at this point. Maybe the states in which the Republicans plan on pasting a “baby killer” bumper sticker on the foreheads of the up-for-reelection senators will all be pro-choice states (although I wouldn’t bet on that where West Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, and Montana are concerned.) Maybe voters in the states where Republicans’ terms are up will punish the incumbents for the way their party has tried to punish the poor for being poor and reward the rich for being rich. Maybe they’ll hand the Democrats a larger Senate majority than presently exists.


But Obama owes it to the Democratic senators whose seats are opening up to take the point in making it clear that Planned Parenthood plays an important role in the nation’s health care system, not just where pregnancy is concerned, but in screening for breast cancer and testicular cancer, in screening for high cholesterol and high blood sugar, in giving flu shots and tetanus boosters, in helping people quit smoking, and in giving physical exams for sports and employment.

I have a fantasy that when some would-be senator in one of the presently Democratic-senator states says the incumbent voted to support an abortion mill, Obama stands up to his full height and says, “You lie.” And backs up his assertion by telling the state’s voters what I just told you.

Here, from the Senate’s web site, is the list of senators whose terms are expiring. An asterisk (*) after the name indicates the senator is not running again.

Akaka, Daniel K. (D-HI) *
Bingaman, Jeff (D-NM) *
Brown, Sherrod (D-OH)
Cantwell, Maria (D-WA)
Cardin, Benjamin L. (D-MD)
Carper, Thomas R. (D-DE)
Casey, Robert P., Jr. (D-PA)
Conrad, Kent (D-ND) *
Feinstein, Dianne (D-CA)
Gillibrand, Kirsten E. (D-NY)
Klobuchar, Amy (D-MN)
Kohl, Herb (D-WI)
Manchin, Joe, III (D-WV)
McCaskill, Claire (D-MO)
Menendez, Robert (D-NJ)
Nelson, Ben (D-NE)
Nelson, Bill (D-FL)
Stabenow, Debbie (D-MI)
Tester, Jon (D-MT)
Webb, Jim (D-VA) *
Whitehouse, Sheldon (D-RI)


Barrasso, John (R-WY)
Brown, Scott P. (R-MA)
Corker, Bob (R-TN)
Ensign, John (R-NV) *
Hatch, Orrin G. (R-UT)
Hutchison, Kay Bailey (R-TX) *
Kyl, Jon (R-AZ) *
Lugar, Richard G. (R-IN)
Snowe, Olympia J. (R-ME)
Wicker, Roger F. (R-MS)


Lieberman, Joseph I. (ID-CT) *
Sanders, Bernard (I-VT)

Obama’s decision to promise a floor vote on Planned Parenthood will surely suck up some of the Democratic candidates’ energy and campaign money, even if the need to defend themselves isn’t great. At best, he won’t have decreased the size of the Senate majority. At worst, he may have given the Republicans the biggest prize of all – control of both houses of Congress.

UPDATE: The asterisk next to Sen. Akaka’s name was omitted in the original version. He will not run for re-election in 2012.

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