Planned Parenthood asks Shenna Bellows to stop claiming Susan Collins voted to ‘defund’ them

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, left, and Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, right. BDN file photos.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, left, and Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, right. BDN file photos.

On Thursday, Planned Parenthood Federation of America reached out to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows to ask her to clarify a portion of her campaign website regarding Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

A section of Bellows website outlining policy differences between her and Collins stated that Collins had “voted to defund Planned Parenthood,” but the group said that simply isn’t true.

In 2011, as part of a deal to fund government and avert a shutdown, the Senate voted on House Continuing Resolution 36 — the so-called “Pence Amendment” — a Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, which at the time received approximately $317 million of federal money annually, according to Politico. The measure had been approved in the GOP-controlled House, but five Republican senators, including Collins, voted with Democrats to successfully kill the proposal in the Senate.

“We think it’s important for voters to know what candidates records are on these important issues,” said Eric Ferrero, VP of communications with Planned Parenthood, on Thursday. “The vote to defund Planned Parenthood was one of the most serious threats that our organization has faced in the nearly 100 years we’ve existed. It was a serious threat to our ability to provide health care to millions of people across the country, thousands of them in Maine. It was an extremely important vote, and when it mattered most, Sen. Collins voted with us and stood with Planned Parenthood, and with women. We think it’s important that people know that.”

Collins’ vote on the issue was covered widely by the media, and even earned her a letter of gratitude from Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president. Richards is in Maine today to appear at a campaign event in Orono with first lady Michelle Obama in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

The section of Bellows website was changed Friday to say Collins “has voted for numerous budget bills that would have defunded family planning clinics and Planned Parenthood.” Abigail Collazo, Bellows’ deputy campaign manager, said the change was made after Planned Parenthood asked the campaign to be more specific about what votes were in question. 

While Collins may have voted in support of Planned Parenthood when the issue stood alone, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The vote on the Pence Amendment was the product of a long and acrimonious fight in Congress over funding the government. House Republicans, hot off sweeping victories in the 2010 midterm elections, were eager to impose their agenda, including broad spending cuts — including the defunding of Planned Parenthood and several provisions of Obamacare.

Both of those provisions found their way into HR 1, the House’s 2011 appropriations bill to keep government running. It passed in the House, and in the Senate, Collins voted for it. Collazo said that was the vote in question, not the Pence Amendment.

“It’s what we’ve been saying all along: These votes matter,” she said.

Collins’ campaign downplayed the importance of the HR 1 vote, noting for example, that Planned Parenthood didn’t even consider that vote on their congressional scorecard the following year.

The Senate votes on HR 1 were part of the arcane maneuvering common in U.S. Senate politics. Facing a potential government shutdown and the promise of a veto by President Obama, Senate leaders forced a straight vote on the HR 1, as well as a Democratic alternative, knowing full well that neither would win the 60 votes necessary to pass.

Collins’ campaign manager, Steve Abbot, said said Thursday that every senator knew full well that the bill was going nowhere.

“This whole vote over HR 1 was a show, it was theater of the absurd,” Abbot said “There’s a Republican proposal and a Democrat proposal and either had enough to pass, and the leaders made an agreement to bring both bills to the Senate, side by side, to show their caucuses that they were going to lose.”

Abbot said Collins didn’t like either budget proposal, but voted for the Republican version because the alternative was government shutdown.

Eventually, lawmakers and Obama agreed to a continuing resolution to fund government, thus averting the shutdown, and separate votes on Planned Parenthood’s funding and Obamacare.

Collins, like Bellows, is pro-choice. She has an 86 percent rating by Planned Parenthood, but her relationship with group has fluctuated over the years.The group endorsed her in 2002, but campaigned against her in 2008 because of her vote to confirm conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, according to a 2012 column in the New York Times. The column also quotes Collins calling the group “infuriating” and “an arm of the Democratic National Committee.”

Collazo said the vote on HR 1 is just part of a pattern that raises questions about Collins’ support for women’s rights and family planning.

“What’s her excuse for voting for the Blunt amendment? For voting for Alito and [Justice John] Roberts, who brought us the Hobby Lobby decision?” she said.

This year, Planned Parenthood, despite its frenzy of political activity in the state, has not endorsed either candidate for Senate in Maine. The group has endorsed Democratic candidates in the governor’s race and in the 2nd Congressional District, and has pledged a $500,000 ad campaign for pro-choice candidates.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.