Once a proponent of making abortions “safe, legal and rare,” Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has now dropped the “rare” from her rhetorical pitch as she seeks to rally the Planned Parenthood vote.
Ever more worried by a challenge from Sen. Bernard Sanders, Mrs. Clinton has placed women’s rights at the forefront of her candidacy, rallying with a heightened sense of absolutism: fighting against all restrictions on abortions, including during the ninth month of pregnancy.
She regularly rails against Republican efforts to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood and was rewarded this month when the group’s political arm endorsed her presidential bid — marking the first time the abortion provider has tipped its hand in the presidential primary in its 100-year history.
Just days after the endorsement, Mrs. Clinton called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits direct federal taxpayer funding for abortions.
Mr. Sanders, speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, waved off the endorsement as another sign of “the political establishment” rallying to Mrs. Clinton. That drew outraged responses from Mrs. Clinton’s defenders, including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who said it was demeaning to Planned Parenthood.
But analysts said Mr. Sanders had a point.
“Bernie Sanders is exactly right,” said Chad Pecknold, a theologian at Catholic University of America. “Hillary Clinton has always been a part of the establishment and one of the most powerful players in politics — of which she’s been 100 percent bought and paid for — is Planned Parenthood. She can’t do anything but support the vision of the group.”
Planned Parenthood fights all restrictions on abortions and has been particularly vocal in opposing efforts to ban late-term abortions. Yet those bans are popular with the public, according to a Marist poll released last week. More than 60 percent of respondents said they supported outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, or about five months, into a pregnancy.
In 2000, when she first ran for the U.S. Senate, Mrs. Clinton seemed to be part of that majority, telling The Associated Press that she “would support legislation that would ban late-term abortions, including so-called partial-birth abortion, as long as it protects the life and health of the woman and it does not undermine Roe v. Wade.”
By this year’s presidential campaign, though, her stance had hardened.
“I think that the kind of late-term abortions that take place are because of medical necessity, and therefore I would hate to see the government interfering with that decision,” she said in a September interview with John Dickerson of CBS. “This gets back to whether you respect a woman’s right to choose or not, and I think that’s what this whole argument is about.”
Several states have enacted 20-week bans in recent years, and the U.S. House passed a similar measure in May, though Senate Democrats successfully filibustered to stop the legislation from reaching President Obama’s desk.
Mrs. Clinton tweeted in May regarding the measure, “When it comes to women’s health, there are two kinds of experts: women and doctors. True 40+ years ago, true today.”
At a campaign event in August, she compared Republican presidential candidates’ views on women’s rights, including the approval of bans on late-term abortions, to that of terrorists.
“Now, extreme views about women, we expect that from some of the terrorist groups, we expect that from people who don’t want to live in the modern world, but it’s a little hard to take from Republicans who want to be president of the United States,” Mrs. Clinton said.
She made the comments after the release of undercover videos in July, shot by a pro-life advocacy group, showing Planned Parenthood executives drinking wine while negotiating prices of aborted baby parts for research purposes. Although the videos were edited, several Republican lawmakers called for the subsequent defunding of Planned Parenthood and a congressional investigation into the organization.
After a protracted fight, the House this month passed a measure that would have gutted federal funding for Planned Parenthood and repealed parts of the Affordable Care Act, which the president vetoed.
When the videos were first released, however, Mrs. Clinton called them “disturbing.” But within the span of 48 hours, she started vigorously defending the nation’s largest abortion provider.
“I have seen pictures from them and obviously find them disturbing,” Mrs. Clinton told the New Hampshire Union Leader the Tuesday after the videos were made public.
Two days later, she took to her Twitter account to defend the organization.
“Proud to stand [with] Planned Parenthood and for access to quality, affordable healthcare for women, men & young people,” she said.
Those who have studied the long-standing relationship between Mrs. Clinton and Planned Parenthood say the about-face was expected.
“Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are as far left on abortion as you can possibly get — they’re both right in line with Planned Parenthood’s reasoning that abortion should be legal for any reason, at any time and should all be paid for by the taxpayer,” said Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. “The only difference between Bernie and Hillary is Hillary is part of the political establishment and Planned Parenthood is the abortion political machine. I think it’s humorous they would suggest otherwise.”
Even though Planned Parenthood only recently endorsed Mrs. Clinton for president, the partnership has been building for some time.
As Mrs. Clinton launched her bid for the White House last spring, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tweeted: “there has never been a presidential candidate with as strong a commitment to women’s health & rights,” and called the moment “#Historic.”
Mrs. Richards’ daughter, Lily Adams, is Mrs. Clinton’s Iowa press secretary.
Planned Parenthood’s political arm has said it will spend at least $20 million this election cycle to back its favored candidates.
Planned Parenthood also has taken an active role within the Clinton Foundation as a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. It has teamed with the foundation to train “youth peer providers” in Latin American, Africa and the U.S. in ways to promote birth control, according to the Clinton Global Initiative’s website.
Planned Parenthood is also sponsoring two global youth fellowship programs and will participate with the Clinton Global Initiative to create a national youth organizing strategy to advocate for more investment and access to reproductive health care.
Mr. Sanders’ campaign stood by his contention that Planned Parenthood is part of the Clinton political establishment.
“I think Bernie is referring to, we are seeing it not just in those organizations but others, a lot of national groups with headquarters here in Washington, and the leadership, the headquarters, has one agenda. And I think the people in the states and the grass roots have another,” Ted Devine, Mr. Sanders’ head strategist, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
So far this election cycle, employees within the “women’s issues” industry have given $2.5 million to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, making the group her sixth-largest donor, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group’s federal political action committee, gave $8,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate 2000 campaign and $1,837 to her 2008 presidential bid, records show. Many of Planned Parenthood’s PAC donors are the biggest givers to the Ready for Hillary PAC, a pro-Clinton organization, and have personally maxed out to her campaign with individual contributions of $2,700.