On Friday, we finally got a House vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. 241 representatives voted to take away their tax dollars, while 187 voted not to. Three Republicans and three Democrats each sided with the opposite party. And Rep. Steve King (R-IA) voted present, presumably in protest of the ways he thought the bill should have been stronger.
It won’t become law anytime soon, with the Senate vote failing to reach cloture, President Barack Obama certain to veto, and too few votes to override, meaning the vote won’t placate calls to defund Planned Parenthood via Congress’s power of the purse. But while pro-lifers have discussed that dispute at length, we haven’t adequately covered how much more our elected statesmen could be doing with other measures.
Second to taking effect, the most valuable function of voting on legislation is making a public statement. Between the House and Senate votes, more than two hundred legislators have put themselves on the record as being officially comfortable with forcing the American people to financially support an organization that not only murders hundreds of children daily, but is now known to practice such violence for reasons far less noble than women’s health. This organization, Planned Parenthood, also commits numerous crimes and additional human-rights atrocities in the process—something pro-life groups and challengers will be eager to remind their constituents when they’re up for reelection.
More importantly, it generates media coverage for the issue. It’s one thing for the press to ignore the videos themselves, but quite another to pretend major national votes didn’t happen, and it’s all but impossible to avoid at least a passing mention of what instigated it. Pro-life congressmen have seized upon the attention with impassioned speeches marshalling America’s conscience to stand up to this. Those are welcome, and attract some additional public attention, but unfortunately are less likely to spread very far beyond pro-life and political media whose readers’ minds are largely made up.
The fact remains that despite how relentlessly pro-life and conservative websites, publications, Fox News, The Blaze, and activist groups’ mailing lists have publicized the story since July, 53% of the public remains completely unaware of the videos, with a mere 27% saying they know “a lot” about the horrors they reveal. Such is the inherent limitation of any activist platform—the core audience is the core audience because they’ve proactively sought it out, and only reaches a limited amount of the unaffiliated.
The missing ingredient is an effort to reach beyond the audience who is already convinced abortion is evil and that Planned Parenthood needs to go. The GOP has the resources to do so, so now’s the time for them to step up and put their money where their mouth is. The Republican National Committee has paid good money for ad campaigns bashing Hillary Clinton, tying into Black History Month, and painfully pandering to the hipster vote, so what excuse could there possibly be for not investing at least as much in putting the Center for Medical Progress videos on TV during every football game or American Idol episode? If ending abortion is supposedly one of the party’s core values, how could they justify not giving it the star treatment?
The common refrain for pro-lifers impatient with Republican pro-life inaction is that they put up pro-life bills for “show votes” that don’t meaningfully bring us closer to results. But whether a show vote is a good or a bad thing depends on the intended audience: showing the rest of the country what it needs to do, or just showing the pro-life base that our leaders look busy.