Up until now, it was understandable that Minnesota Democrats would keep their heads down as debate swirled around them on the videos showing two Planned Parenthood physicians discussing the sale of tissues from aborted fetuses.
The controversy appeared to be geographically removed – the doctors in question are based in Washington, D.C., and California. The heavy editing of the videos undermines their authenticity. And Planned Parenthood of Minnesota has stated (in a letter to the editor published in the Star Tribune that it does not have a fetal tissue donation program.
But the Republican Party of Minnesota has raised the ante by asking Democrats Al Franken, Rick Nolan, Tim Walz and Betty McCollum to return Planned Parenthood campaign contributions, along with asking them to call for an investigation into Planned Parenthood practices.
Michael Broadkorb, former deputy chair of the state GOP and now a blogger for the Star Tribune, says it is completely appropriate for Republicans to raise questions.
“There is a substantive debate about what was going on [in the video], what was their intention, and I think it is relevant for anyone to bring up a discussion related to that,” he said. “In politics, that type of guilt by association is done all the time on both sides of the aisle.”
Republicans were on the receiving end of politicizing a sensitive current event last month, after the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.
Rep. Tom Emmer was one of several Republicans who returned political contributions from the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group linked to Dylann Roof, the man who faces 33 counts in the shootings on June 17.
Brodkorb pointed out that the ensuing debate over the Confederate flag crossed the Mason Dixon line at a Minnesota Republican Party news conference on an unrelated subject. The party’s deputy chair, Chris Fields, who is black, was asked for his thoughts on the flag controversy.
“If it’s relevant to ask Chris Fields about the Confederate flag, it’s relevant to ask about abortion, another politically divisive issue,” he said.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey framed the request to Franken, Nolan, Walz, and McCollum as matter of principle. The videos are “severely troubling” and concern “likely illegal conduct,” Downey said.
But there are some basic political calculations in play. Abortion is not an issue even the most liberal politician treats lightly. In a socially conservative area, like the eighth congressional district represented by Rick Nolan, an association with Planned Parenthood could affect his re-election chances next year.
Given that even minor offenses are turned on end for partisan advantage, it is a certainty that abortion will join race relations as part of the 2016 election conversation.