Analysis: Democrats twist Sen. Susan Collins’ Planned Parenthood stand


Republican Sen. Susan Collins is mired in a bit of a storm regarding a procedural vote she took Monday on a bill that sought to defund Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

If you haven’t heard, the organization is at the center of a controversy around the release of a video by anti-abortion activists that shows Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissues for research purposes.

Earlier this week, Collins proposed a bill that would trigger a Department of Justice investigation into tissue sales by Planned Parenthood affiliates and defund any that engage in the practices, which Collins said she was “sickened” by. But she stopped far short of supporting some of her Republican colleagues’ mission and long-held goal of totally defunding Planned Parenthood.

“We do, however, need to keep in mind the fact that Planned Parenthood provides important family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country. For many women, Planned Parenthood clinics provide the only health care services they receive,” said Collins on the Senate floor Monday while she was presenting her bill. “It would be premature to totally defund Planned Parenthood immediately until we know the facts.”

Then came Monday night, when the overall defunding bill was under consideration. Collins and 53 senators voted to move to debate on the bill, which was not enough to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to do so. A range of groups immediately pounced on Collins, arguing that her vote meant she supports defunding Planned Parenthood.

“Susan Collins continues to prove that when it really matters, she can’t be trusted to do what’s right for Maine women,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett in a press release on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, Sen. Susan Collins surprised Maine women by backing away from previous statements and voted in support of defunding the country’s largest, most trusted women’s health care provider,” read a press release from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

The Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor also chimed in with a press release under the headline “Press Statement on Collins’ Vote to Deny Health Care to Thousands of Maine Women.”

Despite these attacks, Collins does not want to defund Planned Parenthood, a fact she has made clear in statements to the media and in speeches on the Senate floor. Her vote to open debate on the bill Monday was made to provide an opening for her own amendment.

Sure, opening debate could have led to the success of the bill in the GOP-controlled Senate. And sure, pro-life activists see Collins’ amendment — and the release of the fetal tissue bill in the first place — as an attempt to whittle away at organizations that offer abortions.

But to say that Collins’ vote Monday night to move to debate was a vote to totally defund Planned Parenthood is quite a stretch, and a real-time example of how the machinations of Congress or the Legislature can be twisted to create false public perceptions of politicians’ positions to serve a political purpose. — Christopher Cousins