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Clinton, Trump, and the battle over Planned Parenthood

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Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, introduced Hillary Clinton at a rally in Iowa on Jan. 23.JIM WATSON

As Governor John Kasich took steps to cut off government funding for Planned Parenthood in Ohio, his rival, Republican front-runner Donald Trump, offered a slightly less hostile view of the organization.

Planned Parenthood does "some very good work," Trump told Chuck Todd on Sunday's "Meet the Press.'' Even so, Trump added, "I'm not going to fund it if it's doing . . . abortion."

To Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Trump's take is a classic distinction without a difference. All the GOP candidates "have committed to completely ending access to legal abortion," Richards told a crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters on Sunday. "The field writ large on the Republican side is as extreme as anything I've ever seen in the Republican Party and in a presidential election."

But any extreme opens a middle. Leave it to the former abortion-rights advocate Trump to try to find it, while Kasich does his thing to stop Planned Parenthood in Ohio and Marco Rubio suggests Clinton supports abortion up until a woman's due date. Political satirist Samantha Bee called Rubio's assertion "the stupidest thing I've ever heard," saying it implied Clinton wanted to deliver babies "directly into a Vitamix so that Planned Parenthood can sell it to Whole Foods."

In another election cycle, Clinton said abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare.'' In this one, she needs the fiery activism of Planned Parenthood behind her. And that's what she gets from Richards.


"Defund Planned Parenthood" became the rallying cry for the right, after the release of heavily edited videos which accused the organization of selling aborted baby parts. The only charges to come out of it, however, involve the tactics used to obtain the videos. But the five hours Richards spent testifying before Congress on the subject were "hard, really difficult," she said. The first call afterwards came from Clinton, who wanted to say "thank you."

The experience demonstrated the power and hostility of her opponents, said Richards, and showed her that "every single thing we have fought for . . . it is on the ballot in November."


For Clinton, this pitch is another way to rally female voters in the fight against Bernie Sanders. In her New Hampshire defeat, Clinton lost the overall women's vote by 11 points. In her Nevada caucus victory, she won it, 57 to 41. But appeals to women to support Clinton on gender are running into resistance, especially from younger voters. In her remarks, Richards focused on Clinton's competence, her battle-tested ability to stand up to opponents — and on her lifelong commitment to women's health care and reproductive rights.

In an interview afterwards, Richards said it was fine for Sanders to tout his Gloria Steinem-bestowed credentials as "an honorary woman," but said it's more important to consider toughness and leadership over time. As for Trump, she said there may be some "daylight" between him and rivals, but not enough to make a real difference. When Trump says Planned Parenthood services are fine — except for abortion — Richards answers, "The abortion part of Planned Parenthood is an important part of what we do." She adds, "We supply safe, legal abortion to women in America. And in many parts of this country, we are the only provider.''

That's important to women like me — but not to every woman.

Richards wouldn't be the first to underestimate Trump's ability to carve out a position that is heretical to the right, while appealing to others. He did it when he blamed George W. Bush for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the mistake of invading Iraq.


And so it might also go with Planned Parenthood.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.