Watching Republicans repeatedly interrupt and yell at Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards on Tuesday, one might get the impression that there’s some kind of national uprising against the existence of affordable women’s health care. Republicans repeatedly excoriated the organization for focusing on contraception and Pap smears instead of on mammograms, which are typically done at radiology centers. Cancer research, the Boys and Girls Clubs, mental health counseling for nonexistent issues like abortion regret”: Viewers got a laundry list of things that Republicans felt should be funded instead of low-cost birth control and STI treatment at Planned Parenthood. Rep. Glenn Grothman even argued (bewilderingly) that since there’s medical care he can get “as a guy,” then Planned Parenthood—and by implication, its gynecological services (?!?)—is unnecessary. The message was clear: Taxpayer-funded gynecological care is an illegitimate use of government funding.
But if you look away from the horror show in Congress and to the public at large, the message is very different. In the real world, affordable gynecological care is mainstream and even virtuous, although (gasp) it allows women to have sex with fewer risks to their health. Children’s author Daniel Handler, known by the pen name Lemony Snicket, and his wife, illustrator Lisa Brown, donated $1 million to Planned Parenthood in response to the hearings. This move was huge not just because of the size of the donation but as a reminder that there is no conflict whatsoever between wholesome activities such as writing children’s books and believing that women have a right to a healthy, safe sex life, even if they’re young or low-income.
As Rebecca Traister at New York’s the Cut wrote on Tuesday, Americans continue to love Planned Parenthood, despite the relentless attempts to demonize the organization. Not only do 61 percent of Americans polled support funding the organization, she writes, but “Planned Parenthood, and every politician who supports Planned Parenthood, remains more popular with Americans than every politician and party that opposes Planned Parenthood.”
Despite all the hand-waving about fetal tissue, Tuesday’s hearings were a confirmation that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are a proxy for the larger religious-right movement to reverse the sexual revolution brought to Americans by feminism and reliable contraception. Recreational sex, however, continues to be wildly popular among the public. Deluging people with bloody fetus pictures isn’t dissuading them from their enthusiasm for affordable contraception that makes stress-free recreational sex possible.
Watching Republicans, mostly men, gang up on Cecile Richards indicates the deep contempt for women that drives the anti-choice movement. It reminded me of the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1992, or more specifically, of the way that a group of men condescended to and sneered at Anita Hill for daring to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas. Thomas was confirmed, but the hearings shocked many American women, and led to a surge of feminist sentiment in the ‘90s.
The media consensus about Tuesday’s hearings seems to be that the Republicans looked like a bunch of petulant bullies and Cecile Richards came out looking like one tough cookie. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called the Republicans “so many Captain Ahabs.” MSNBC called out Republicans’ ham-fisted attempts to trick people into believing that Planned Parenthood does more abortions than preventative services. (They do nearly three times as much of the latter.) Celebrities such as Elizabeth Banks, Lena Dunham, and Connie Britton joined the popular #IStandWithPP social media campaign.
As Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post notes, “activism is almost always energized by opposition.” It’s hard to understand why Republicans are picking this particular fight. They might make some gains, defunding women’s health services here and there and sneaking abstinence-only programs back into some schools. But the larger culture war over sex? That battle was lost long ago.