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Jeb Bush’s quick turnabout on women’s health funding, and what it tells us

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announces his 2016 presidential run for the White House at the Miami Dade College Kendall Campus on June 15, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

If nothing else, it's a testament to the power of social media.

Late Monday, Congress made moves toward defunding Planned Parenthood. Senate Democrats (and one Republican) blocked the move. The measure is effectively dead -- for now.

But the total damage wrought by a series of secretly recorded videos from anti-abortion-rights activists which captured Planned Parenthood medical staff discussing the procurement of organs from aborted fetuses remains to be seen.

[How Planned Parenthood actually uses its federal funding]

And by Tuesday afternoon, word went out via Twitter. Jeb Bush had told a group gathered at the Southern Baptist Convention that he was less than certain that "half a billion" dollars was needed to cover "women's health issues."

[Acts of Faith: Jeb Bush draws fire for suggesting 'women's health issues' are overfunded]

Here's our own Sean Sullivan, quoting Bush:

"The argument against this is, well, women's health issues are going to be -- you're attacking, it's a war on women, and you're attacking women's health issues.
"You could take dollar for dollar -- although I'm not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women's health issues -- but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist, federally-sponsored community health organizations, to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues," he said. "But abortion should not be funded by the government."

That little aside was quickly highlighted on social media as precisely an example of the GOP "attacking women's health issues." And less than two hours later, the Bush campaign released it's own statement clarifying Bush's comments.

With regards to women’s health funding broadly, I misspoke, as there are countless community health centers, rural clinics and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded. They provide critical services to all, but particularly low-income women who don’t have the access they need.
I was referring to the hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood – an organization that was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs.

The Bush press release goes on to outline the candidate's support for a number of women's health-care measures during his time as governor of Florida.

(Planned Parenthood, to be clear, has emphatically denied that the organization sold the organs of aborted fetuses. Rather, the organization has said, it has transferred aborted fetal tissue to research facilities accepting payment only for transportation and other logistical costs as allowed by law. Selling fetal tissue is illegal).

The Bush campaign's clarification is essentially an acknowledgement of the candidate's error. And sure enough, Hillary Clinton was quick to pounce:

Fellow GOP contender and Wisconsin Gov. Scot Walker also highlighted the back and forth, doing his own bit -- intentional or not -- to draw attention to the Bush comment that started it all while also attacking Clinton.

The political spin aside, women's health care is not cheap.

Most women will, at some point, have children. A pregnancy and delivery can be costly. Becoming healthy enough to get pregnant or stay that way is also not cheap for others. And finally, some significant share of women will need treatment for breast or gynecological cancers. And all the rest will need regular screenings.

According to the nation's public health authorities, that kind of screening should be happening regularly for all women between the ages of 21 and 65, whether they are sexually active or not. And, if all of that does not make the potential cost of women's health care clear, consider just how many women have reached childbearing age, or sit inside that age range where additional health screenings are strongly recommended, according to Census data.

In fact, these costs are so significant that in the years before the Affordable Care Act outlawed the practice in 2014, health insurance companies regularly charged women more for coverage, anticipating both more frequent use of their health-care benefits than the nation's more-doctor-averse men and higher health care costs over the course of women's typically longer lifetimes. When equal pricing became an issues in the Affordable Care Act debate, some insurers argued that an end to gender-based pricing would damage their businesses. And some conservative women's groups and their leaders publicly agreed.

Of course, one very real reason that Bush moved to clarify his comments Tuesday has to do with the very same "war on women" attack he cited. Republicans are, in some ways, still recovering from a series of comments in 2012 -- think Missouri Republican Rep. Tod Akin's claims about pregnancy and "legitimate rape" during his Senate campaign -- that at the very least have given Democrats an opening to go after Republicans as insufficiently sensitive to the needs of women.

When Democrats are talking about that rather than the Planned Parenthood videos, they are on much firmer ground.