McCain: Defund Planned Parenthood or Shut Down Federal Government

U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona was an outspoken critic of the 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October 2013, vowing after it was over that it wouldn’t happen again. Seems he’s had a change of heart: McCain told NPR that he would support holding the 2016 federal spending bill hostage over this funding issue.

“I don’t like a government shutdown, but this is a clear case of totally improper use of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

McCain’s comment came shortly after a Senate Bill to defund Planned Parenthood failed 56-43, and he promised to continue the fight against the nonprofit organization. Other Republican leaders have said over the past few days that they would rather shut down the government than continue to fund Planned Parenthood, but McCain is an unexpected addition to the list.

In 2013, he tried to shame his fellow congressional delegates in a floor speech with stories of the disastrous effects the shutdown was having on the American people. “Shouldn’t we be ashamed? Shouldn’t we be embarrassed?” he asked of the failure to pass a spending bill. Then, after Congress agreed to renew and extend federal funding, he told CNN:  “We're not going to go through the shutdown again. People have been too traumatized by it. There's too much damage. We tried this back in 1995 and had the same results.”

Fast-forward two years, and he put out a statement Monday saying: “The appalling footage that has been released over the last several weeks has made it abundantly clear that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for such disturbing activities,” and he told NPR he’d be willing to support a shutdown, if necessary.

It’s unclear what caused the senator’s recent change of heart.

The renewed debate over federal Planned Parenthood funding comes amid the release of four undercover videos purportedly detailing how the organization “sells” fetal tissue for profit. The videos were made by the Center for Medical Progress, a group that pretended to be interested in procuring fetal tissue to lure Planned Parenthood representatives into speaking about donating aborted fetal tissue for scientific research.
Planned Parenthood and its supporters say the videos were misleading and edited in such a way to make it sound as though the organization were doing something illegal. (Under federal law, it says, Planned Parenthood affiliates can be reimbursed for extra medical costs associated with removing intact tissue and transporting it, just as hospitals are reimbursed for costs associated with organ donation.)

And even though Planned Parenthood repeatedly has said that it’s not profiting from this rare practice — it happens only in California, Washington, and one other undisclosed state — and that federal dollars given to the organization are not used for abortions, the anti-abortion lobby is campaigning hard against the organization.

“As a lifetime Pro-Life supporter, I have fought for decades to defend the rights of all human life, particularly those who cannot defend themselves. It is long past time we stop sending American tax dollars to this scandal-plagued group and start doing more to protect the health and well-being of women, mothers, and their families,” McCain said recently.

As for Democrats and others who support continuing to fund Planned Parenthood, he said, “If they want to stand before the American people and say that they support this practice of dismembering unborn children, then that’s their privilege.” 

**Update 8/4/15 4:30 p.m. 
New Times received the following statement in an e-mail from McCain's communication director, Brian Rogers:

“Senator McCain never said he supported a government shutdown, and he agrees with Leader McConnell that there should not be a government shutdown this fall...It’s unfortunate but not surprising that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the liberal Phoenix New Times are taking Senator McCain’s words totally out of context."

The NPR transcript suggests otherwise, and Rogers declined to comment further.
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser