Matt Lewis says shutting down the government is not the answer to defunding Planned Parenthood. But Ted Cruz, above, is forcing that debate anyway. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

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If you’ve seen the undercover videos released about Planned Parenthood and you don’t want to defund the group on the merits of them, then I don’t know what could ever change your mind.

What we are witnessing in these videos is nothing short of barbaric and inhumane. The image of Planned Parenthood executives sipping wine and picking at salad while haggling over baby parts is utterly chilling. We should all be outraged. And the very least we can do is make sure the tax dollars of those of us who vehemently oppose abortion don’t help subsidize the group. (Please realize that money is fungible—therefore, subsidizing other Planned Parenthood projects frees up money that can be spent on abortions.)

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Personally, I would do anything in my power to stop the public funding of abortion, especially in light of evidence that Planned Parenthood is also harvesting and selling organs. If you told me that crawling from D.C. to California would magically defund Planned Parenthood, I’d leave now. But if you said the only arrow in my quiver was to try shutting down the government, I would have to channel Meatloaf and say, “I would do anything for life, but I won’t do that.”

It simply won’t work. It might help individual politicians (like Sen. Ted Cruz) who want to gin up attention and controversy, but it would likely harm the cause of those who value life.


The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis

Here are five reasons why shutting down the government would be counterproductive for those who favor life:

1. Pro-lifers simply don’t have the numbers in Congress. We’ve already had a defund Planned Parenthood vote, where 54 senators (counting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) diverted funding away from the group and to other health centers. The vote demonstrated there’s bipartisan support for defunding the group. However, it would take 60 votes for the Senate to approve such language and 67 votes to override a presidential veto.

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2. In politics, issues have built-in skews. If we’re talking about Planned Parenthood harvesting and selling baby organs, we’re winning. If we’re talking about shutting down the government, we’re losing. Cruz’s gambit moves conservatives from favorable to unfavorable turf. A recent Quinnipiac poll confirmed what we already knew: The public would blame Republicans for a government shutdown. Republicans are identified as the anti-government brand — thus, they will always be blamed for a shutdown, regardless of the facts or extenuating circumstances. We’ve already been through this scenario twice (over Obamacare and Obama’s executive orders), and there’s no reason to believe the third time will be the charm

3. What about the argument that some things are worth fighting for — even if they are losing causes? The problem is this: in addition to not defunding Planned Parenthood, a shutdown could also have other unintended consequences. For example, the gambit could lead to increased government spending. Here’s how it very well might play out when Congress considers the must-pass government spending bill this month: The House will pass a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood, but the Senate can’t. Can House leadership then convince enough Republicans to pass a clean government-funding bill?

If not, as Bill Scher writes over at RealClearPolitics, that would “leave Boehner and McConnell no choice but to strike a deal with Democrats and military-minded Republicans that could grow government.” Democrats might be willing to bail out Republicans, but only if they got something in return — and that something is very likely to be busting the spending caps. Just imagine the ensuing uproar if Republican leadership caves on funding for Planned Parenthood and raises the sequestration spending caps. Cruz, who wins if Republicans win and wins if Republicans lose, will tell the conservative base it could have won if only all Republicans had just stuck to their guns.

Get the popcorn ready.

4. A government shutdown could have electoral consequences — which may ultimately hurt the pro-life cause. As Gallup demonstrated in 2014, Republicans suffered a precipitous ten-point decline in October 2013 as a result of the last partial government shutdown. Because the shutdown occurred 13 months prior to the mid-term elections, it didn’t factor into the 2014 races.

But the 2013 gubernatorial campaign of conservative Ken Cuccinelli did blame the shutdown on his narrow loss to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. Cuccinelli is a staunch pro-lifer, so the consequences in the Commonwealth are obvious. The good news for conservatives is that we’re still a long way from November 2016, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be other consequences.

5. A congressional loss would throw away the pro-life cause’s momentum in the abortion debate. Unlike the gay marriage debate, modernity is helping social conservatives. Technological advances (like ultrasounds) allow people to clearly see that a fetus is something we might call a baby — prospective parents can post a picture of their baby on Facebook. But trying (and failing) to defund Planned Parenthood would give Republican moderates a data point to argue that all social issues are losing issues.

That’s not to suggest conservatives should do nothing. Quite the opposite. The goal is to be strategic. Here are five alternatives that conservatives should consider, instead:

1. Identify some women with legal standing who would file a class action suit against Planned Parenthood. The videos illustrate ample evidence that women’s health isn’t the sole factor in determining abortion procedure. The videos highlight talk, for example, of manipulating the baby in the womb and “crushing” the fetus in ways that keep its internal organs “intact” based on the researchers “desire for lungs and livers.” A lawsuit would do more to advance the pro-life cause than would a mere “show” vote in Congress.

2. Add language to the government-spending bill requiring the National Institutes of Health (the NIH is tied to one of the fetal-tissue firms doing business with Planned Parenthood) to obtain consent forms signed by the mother who is making the “donation.” This would force Planned Parenthood to provide consent forms, placing paperwork hurdles in its way. How could one make an intellectually honest argument against transparency and ensuring women fully understand that they’re not merely getting an abortion, but that they’re also making a donation?

3. Launch a sophisticated electoral campaign to embarrass moderate Democrats out-of-touch with their states or districts, in hopes of creating a public relations environment that might eventually lead to a defund win in Congress. You can imagine the ads: “Call Senator Casey and ask him why he voted to make your tax dollars pay for Planned Parenthood’s abortions.” Take the resources and energy that would otherwise be invested in losing causes, and use them to actually make a significant difference. Then, simultaneously launch a parallel campaign aimed at using these videos to encourage women to visit crisis pregnancy centers and consider adoption as an abortion alternative.

4. Introduce a 20-week abortion ban in the U.S. Senate. This would be popular with the general public and an incremental gain for pro-lifers. More importantly, it would put Democrats in the untenable position of defending the indefensible and simultaneously opposing something popular. From a public relations standpoint, this would be playing on winning terrain.

5. Focus on defunding Planned Parenthood in the states. There is reason to believe such efforts are making a difference. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and statistics suggest, “662 babies were saved from abortions in the latest year for which abortion data is available compared with the year before.”

There are compelling reasons to defund Planned Parenthood, and there are equally compelling reasons for why shutting down the government is a horrible means to achieve that end.

So why does this feel like déjà vu to me? Perhaps it’s because it seems like this cycle of unintentional self-flagellation has been going on for years now. I’m currently writing a book about the modern state of conservatism titled “Too Dumb to Fail,” which chronicles the trend of conservatives making these kinds of mistakes. The premise is that conservatism was once a thoughtful philosophy, but that populist demagogues put themselves ahead of the cause by offering simplistic solutions. Ultimately, they may help themselves, but they hurt the greater cause of conservatives, including the right-to-life fight.

There’s an old trope about Republicans being the stupid party and Democrats being the evil party. If the strategy to defund Planned Parenthood via a government shutdown plays out the way I fear it will — with Republicans pursuing a stupid strategy and Democrats defending a wicked practice — both sides would give teeth to this tired old maxim.

Matt Lewis serves as a senior contributor for The Daily Caller, a contributing editor for The Week, and a regular columnist for The Daily Beast and The Telegraph.

Disclosure: The author’s wife previously advised Cruz’s Senate campaign and Cuccinelli’s attorney general and state senate campaigns. She currently consults for Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.