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When Missouri’s GOP delegation traded the perpetually foot-in-mouth Todd Akin for the unctuously smooth Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2), they were undoubtedly hoping that she would help to mute all that “war on women” talk. The hope seems to have been that Wagner, who is quite a bit smarter than the Todster, would be able to paint hard GOP policies in soft terms that would be more acceptable to women. No surprise then that Wagner is taking a leading role in demanding congressional hearings on the Planned Parenthood video that was recently released. Who could be more effective expressing outrage over what the GOP clearly hopes will be perceived as atrocities than a smooth-spoken female professing her determination to confront the horror.

What better way to shift the narrative from one dealing with the suppression of women’s right to control their own bodies to one dealing with what folks like Wagner hope to paint as distasteful abuses stemming from legalized abortion. And finally, what better time to do this than during an election year when the unvarnished truth abut GOP policies dealing with women might alienate female voters.  

On the surface, the noise generated by the video, which shows a Planned Parenthood doctor talking abut the mechanics and financial aspects of donating fetal tissue to researchers, along with demands that it needs to be “investigated” by Congress, seems purely silly. Consider the following points that would seem to relegate this “scandal” to the trash bin:

— It is entirely legal for Planned Parenthood to supply researchers with fetal material and recover the costs of doing so. Staff of the PBS Newshour viewed the unedited three hour video and confirmed that the official was very clear about the legalities.  

— Fetal tissue research has contributed significantly to improvements in human health over the years and donating such tissue – and insuring that it is  usable – strikes many of us as an excellent thing.

— The Planned Parenthood participant in the video has been criticized for her “flippancy.” However, doctors that I know are often quite matter of fact about physical details that they deal with routinely. Folks who have to put their hands where many doctors do, can’t afford an overly precious attitude about bodily parts and functions.

— It is because the full video does not suggest either illegal activity or “disrespect” for the unborn  that it was only released in a heavily edited form designed to upset the squeamish.

— The group that made the video is both deceptive and has ties to an extreme anti-abortion group, Live Action, which has contrived video sting efforts in the past.

But wait there’s more. It seems that Republicans have known about this video for some time, including one GOPer who tried to deny that he had just admitted that this was old news. This fact raises some serious questions. And the answers may lie in some observations by Steve Benen. Maybe what we are seeing is not the real outrage of anti-abortion zealots, but the unfolding of an election year strategy intended to blunt the effective war on women rhetoric of the Democratic party. Benen quotes a Politico article:

Republicans on Capitol Hill are betting the secretly filmed Planned Parenthood video – depicting an executive allegedly discussing the sale of fetal organs from terminated pregnancies – will give them cover to more aggressively push abortion issues without the political ramifications that have haunted the party in the past. […]

To which Benen adds:

Ah, there it is. Republicans don’t have proof of Planned Parenthood wrongdoing, but rather, have a desire to claim a “scalp.” When the GOP went after women’s healthcare in 2012, it backfired on the party, so Republicans hope a misleading video will offer new opportunities to try the same move again.

That’s the point of the GOP calls for investigations, hearings, and probes. That’s why Republicans are trying to use this story to raise money and advance their personal ambitions.

It’s very likly that Wagner’s and other GOPers’ plans for a congressional investigation is designed to keep the story fresh well into 2016 where it can be utilized to undercut discussion of the entire range of anti-choice GOP policies as well as giving them cover to push more abortion and contraceptive restrictions. Ann Wagner, as a member of the Republican House leadership, will be well placed to push “baby parts for sale” lies. Move over Benghazi; we’ve got another faux-scandal to keep GOPers occupied – unless Democrats grow some backbone and push back full force against the lies.