Planned Parenthood gained an unlikely new booster on Tuesday morning: Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
The billionaire told Chris Cuomo on CNN’s New Day that he opposes federal funding going to Planned Parenthood to pay for abortions, but that he’s OK with tax dollars going to the group to pay for other services that it provides.
“The problem that I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. It is like an abortion factory, frankly,” Trump began. “And you can’t have it. And you just shouldn’t be funding it. That should not be funded by the government, and I feel strongly about that.”
Then Cuomo asked Trump if he could support funding for other Planned Parenthood efforts, such as providing contraception to women.
“What I would do when the time came, I’d look at the individual things they do, and maybe some of the individual things they do are good,” Trump continued, with characteristic eloquence. “I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely.”
And he went on: “I would look at the good aspects of [Planned Parenthood], and I would also look, because I’m sure they do some things properly and good and that are good for women, and I would look at that, and I would look at other aspects also. But we have to take care of women.”
So here’s the thing: As NPR detailed last week, federal law prevents the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in virtually all cases.
Planned Parenthood gets federal money through the Title X family planning program—none of those funds can be used to pay for abortions—and through Medicaid, which can cover the cost of abortions only “in very restricted cases.”
So, in short, Trump defended the status quo: half a billion dollars of taxpayer cash for the group.
Planned Parenthood applauded Trump’s remarks.
“Donald Trump seems to have realized that banning all abortions, shutting down the government, and defunding Planned Parenthood are extreme positions that are way too far outside the mainstream for even him to take,” said spokesman Eric Ferrero in a statement.
“We hope that the rest of the GOP field will wake up and reconsider their extreme and unpopular positions on defunding preventive care, abortion bans, and the other economic issues that women and their families care about,” Ferrero continued.
In other words, Trump is Planned Parenthood’s favorite Republican presidential candidate right now (or their least un-favorite).
While the billionaire’s comments have pleased the one side of the debate, they have predictably left pro-life activists angry and frustrated. That’s because when pro-life activists talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they aren’t talking about that tiny exception in Medicaid; they’re talking about zeroing out all taxpayer dollars that the organization receives.
They argue that any dollar that goes to the organization is, ultimately, supporting abortion.
“[B]ecause money is fungible, subsidizing any of the operations of the nation’s largest performer of abortions (rather than re-routing that money to community health centers not engaged in abortions) is a boon to the merchants of death,” wrote Dan McLaughlin at the conservative site RedState a few hours after Trump made his comments.
(This isn’t Trump’s first clash with RedState. Last week, RedState Founder Erick Erickson disinvited Trump from a weekend confab for Republican contenders after Trump’s comments about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.)
Mallory Quigley, communications director for the pro-life political group Susan B. Anthony List, echoed McLaughlin’s remarks.
“We have always opposed federal funding for Planned Parenthood because they are America’s largest abortion business and any dollars that they receive free up other funding, which is available for abortion,” Quigley told The Daily Beast.
Federal tax dollars make up a huge part of the monies Planned Parenthood gets every year. In 2014, the organization received $528.4 million from the federal government. In contrast, it only took in $54.7 million in fees charged for services. The remainder of its funding for that year—about $563 million—came from nongovernment sources, private donors, and foundations.
Losing taxpayer funding can impact the organization’s effectiveness—a scenario that has played out on the state level.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin was forced to close five clinics—none of which performed abortions, per the group’s spokesperson—after Gov. Scott Walker signed budgets eliminating its state funding.
Chris Taylor, a Wisconsin state representative and former public policy director at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, told The Daily Beast that any further state funding cuts—including losing access to federal Title X dollars—“will certainly put more clinics at risk.”
For pro-life activists, fewer clinics would be—and has been—a big win. So Trump’s defense of federal funding for the organizations baffled pro-life activists who spoke with The Daily Beast.
“I’m not quite sure what he was thinking when he said that, to be honest with you,” said Kerri Kupec of the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom.
“To say, let’s keep funding the quote unquote good aspects—why are we making Americans and their hard-earned tax dollars complicit in this gross behavior that Planned Parenthood is engaging in, this callous disregard for human life?” she added.
Others piled on too.
“All his bankruptcies taught Donald Trump about such cheap accounting tricks,” said John Zmirak, a pro-life columnist for the Christian news aggregation site The Stream. “Planned Parenthood is a criminal enterprise with roots in racist eugenics. If Trump wants taxpayers to subsidize their baby organ profiteering, he should be man enough to admit it.”
And Lila Rose, a prominent pro-life activist and head of the group Live Action, said Trump must not have watched the sting videos that renewed interest in defunding the organization.
“Trump’s vacillation on Planned Parenthood funding is deeply troubling, and reveals an ignorance about their horrific abortion practices,” she said.
Still more activists have been left scratching their heads.
Penny Nance, who heads the group Concerned Women for America, emailed that she plans to ask him to clarify whether he supports shifting Planned Parenthood funds to community health centers that don’t provide abortions, or whether he supports the status quo.
The Trump camp didn’t respond to a request for clarification from The Daily Beast.
And Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Iowa social conservative who heads The Family Leader, said his group “will probably want to discuss it with him further.”
“It’s a little bit like a boys and girls home family services-type-deal that, well, we’ve discovered that these boys and girls are being physically abused, but hey, they’re all getting their GEDs, so let’s keep funding them getting their GED,” he said. “No, if you’re doing wrong, you’re doing wrong. And you don’t get funded by the government for doing wrong.”