Reid, Heller on Planned Parenthood

On July 29, U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada spoke on the Senate floor about a bill bill sponsored by Iowa Republican Joni Ernst to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Among other things, he said:

“The Republican bill pretends to be for women's health, but it would prohibit federal funds to go to an organization that is the health care backbone for American women during their lives. In fact, it's the only health care that a significant number of women get. About 30 percent of women—that's their health care. So you can disguise this by having fancy titles to the legislature any way you want. This is an attack on women's health.”

A number of websites and news organizations picked up that 30 percent figure, prompting Politifact, the Pulitzer prize-winning feature in a Florida newspaper, to check it out. Its conclusion after examining figures from Planned Parenthood:

“Reid said Planned Parenthood is ‘the only health care that a significant number of women get. About 30 percent of women, that's their health care.' That's not the case—Planned Parenthood saw 2.7 million patients in 2013, not the 39 million it would have needed to see for Reid's claim to be accurate. Even if every Planned Parenthood patient had no other health care options, the group would have seen about 2 percent of women, not 30 percent. His office acknowledged that Reid, making off-the-cuff remarks, got the talking point wrong. In this case, he really got it wrong.”

What happened next said a lot about today's politics and Reid's critics. Politifact said nothing about Reid's motives, only said he was incorrect. His critics did not mind mischaracterizing its conclusions, however.

The anti-abortion website LifeNews used this headline when it recycled the Politifact findings: “Harry Reid Caught Lying When He Said 30% of Women Get Health Care at Planned Parenthood.”

The right-wing site NewsBusters: “He's lying, on the Senate floor. … Reid's has [sic] a habit of knowingly lying on the Senate floor out of pure political calculation.”

This was somewhat awkward for NewsBusters, since it is a frequent critic of Politifact, which often exposes “facts” on which conservatives rely.

Incidentally, in 2011, “Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl claimed this month on the Senate floor that ‘well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does' is provide abortion services,” Politifact reported. “That figure was wildly incorrect. Planned Parenthood says only 3 percent of its total services in 2009 were abortions. The other 97 percent of services were for contraception, treatment and tests for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings, and other women's health services.”

But Kyl, a Republican, was not described as a liar by NewsBusters or LifeNews.

Across the aisle, meanwhile, Reid's GOP colleague Dean Heller announced on July 29 that he will vote to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Heller was a Republican moderate until after he ran for federal office, when he dashed to the right. He was an abortion supporter as a state legislator, secretary of state and a U.S. House member—“I do back a woman's right to choose abortion,” he said in 2006, when he ran for the U.S. House. But he began voting against abortion after being appointed to the Senate. “I was probably more libertarian when I was back in the state,” Heller told Real Clear Politics in 2011.

What may have had just as much to do with his change of mind is that members of Congress must rely heavily on right-wing groups for funding to get reelected. His change in stance on abortion came about the time that he was facing a woman, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, in the 2012 Senate race, and she received funding from several pro-abortion organizations.

Heller claims to be “open minded” on fetal tissue research.

Federal law does not permit Planned Parenthood to use its federal funding for its rare abortion procedures.

Nevadans voted to retain the state's Roe-style abortion law 71.3 to 27.2 percent in 1990, the year Heller was first elected to the Nevada Legislature as an abortion supporter.