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What the Planned Parenthood video means to the abortion debate

Screenshot from video released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola as she describes how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted unborn children and admitting she uses partial-birth abortions to supply intact body parts. (Courtesy of Center for Medical Progress)
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On Wednesday, President Obama defended the new nuclear deal with Iran and presidential campaigns filed their second-quarter fundraising numbers. But for many, the decades-old abortion debate was the political story, thanks to undercover video of Planned Parenthood director Deborah Nucatola discussing the procurement of fetal organs. Since it was posted online Tuesday, it has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

The anti-abortion-rights group that uploaded the video -- the Center for Medical Progress -- says the video proves Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal organs, but Planned Parenthood said the video is out of context.

Editor's note: Contains graphic language. The Center for Medical Progress released a video that allegedly shows a Planned Parenthood executive talking about selling fetal organs. (Video: The Center for Medical Progress)

Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker are among those who have denounced Planned Parenthood, and on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called for a congressional hearing into the organization.

As for its long-term impact on the abortion debate, though, don't expect a sea change.

This year, Gallup polling showed a majority of Americans self-identified as "pro-choice" -- that is, generally supporting abortion rights -- for the first time in seven years. From 1995 to 2009, most of the U.S. was "pro-choice." But since then, public opinion has fluctuated quite a bit. Gallup attributed some of the changes since it began tracking to certain political and cultural events, like Supreme Court rulings, anti-abortion violence, efforts to ban "partial birth abortion and, two years ago, Kermit Gosnell.

Because our labels as a country are somewhat tied to events, it's not unreasonable to think this viral video could have a noticeable impact by the time Gallup polls again -- at least a few points' worth.

But shifting labels doesn't necessarily mean we shift our overall views. One reason people might oscillate between labels is because, regardless of how divisive the labels of "pro-choice" or "pro-life" have become, in truth most Americans actually agree on many aspects of abortion.

Gallup found a majority of those who identify as either "pro-choice" and "pro-life" both support making abortion illegal in the second and third trimesters, banning partial-birth abortions, requiring a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, requiring parental consent for minors, and making abortion legal in instances of rape, incest or if the mother's health or life is endangered.

It stands to reason that the issue at hand here -- the sale of fetal organs -- likely unites both sides too. So while we might have a debate about whether Planned Parenthood deserves federal funding (a debate that has been going for a very long time), it's hard to see the larger dynamics of the whether-abortion-should-be-legal debate shifting.

After all, in contrast to the shifting numbers for "pro-choice" and "pro-life," views on the specifics of abortion have been remarkably steady for decades.

And for being one of our most controversial social issues, Americans actually have a lot in common when it comes to abortion rights. If the video, it's graphic language or any of the fallout from it convinces enough people in that mass middle area on the border between "pro-choice" and "pro-life" to switch how they self-identify, we could see another change in support.

Whether that actually changes people's true feelings about abortion or the political debate is another matter.