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Despite Calls For Defunding, Support For Planned Parenthood Holds Steady


The call to defund Planned Parenthood has also become a rallying cry on the presidential campaign trail. It's an issue that energizes each party's base. But as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, overall public opinion about the organization is not changing much.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Speaking at a crisis pregnancy center in Spartanburg, S.C., last week, Carly Fiorina said the federal money that pays for women's health services at Planned Parenthood clinics should go to centers like this one that don't perform abortions.


CARLY FIORINA: If it's about women's health then why isn't the liberal Democrat party willing to say that pregnancy centers such as this should also be funded by taxpayers?

MCCAMMON: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO, who's running for president, spoke at the privately funded anti-abortion Carolina Pregnancy Center. It offers women pregnancy tests and baby supplies, but not health screenings or contraception - two things Planned Parenthood offers at a reduced cost. Pollster Tresa Undem says that's why so many women go there - more than you may think.

TRESA UNDEM: It's a very important place for young people to go. I mean, everybody knows somebody who's been to Planned Parenthood for health care.

MCCAMMON: Undem's firm has done polling for Planned Parenthood, among other groups in the past. She points to recent surveys that show most Americans support maintaining federal funding for the organization. What's more, an NBC Wall Street Journal poll out this week found almost half of Americans had a positive opinion of Planned Parenthood while fewer than a third had a negative one. That's higher than either political party and it's unchanged since July when a series of sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood were first released by an anti-abortion group. Undem says that matches what she's hearing from focus groups.

UNDEM: People are seeing it sort of as a political attempt. It's a political stunt. It's not something people are sinking their teeth into. It's not something - they're not changing their minds about Planned Parenthood.

MCCAMMON: They're also not changing their minds much about abortion. Since Roe versus Wade was settled in 1973 - more than 40 years ago - opinions about abortion have barely budged. Most people say they are somewhere in the middle. A majority told the Pew Research Center they think it should be legal in certain circumstances. Republican pollster Christine Matthews says Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, remains a strong brand, except with one group.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Conservative Republicans see this brand very differently than other people. So conservative Republicans primarily associate Planned Parenthood with abortion, but if you're an independent or a Democrat, you primarily think that Planned Parenthood is providing health services.

MCCAMMON: Conservative Republicans make up the core of the GOP primary. Matthews says that explains the anti-Planned Parenthood push now, but it could cause problems for Republicans in a general election.

MATTHEWS: That concerns me a little bit, I think especially with the testimony that we're seeing today with the image of a male congressman sort of taking to task the president of Planned Parenthood.

MCCAMMON: There's a danger to be sure for Republicans, but there's also a risk for Democrats in overplaying the issue. While abortion remains a motivator for both party's bases, they'll have to reach beyond the base to win the presidency. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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