Jeb Bush found himself with some serious lady problems on Tuesday after making glib comments about women’s health and also implying he didn’t care about the issue when he was governor.
But that isn’t exactly the case.
As governor, Bush oversaw the diversion of funds from Planned Parenthood to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. He also signed legislation the poured millions into programs for breast and cervical cancer research as well as some that helped low-income women afford cancer treatments.
The trouble began with a gaffe Jeb made during a conversation about Planned Parenthood at the Send North America Conference for conservative Christians.
“I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health programs,” he said casually.
Right on cue, the outrage machine started churning.
Democrats wasted no time pouncing, grateful to go on the offense about health issues after spending weeks dogged by Planned Parenthood sting videos. Bush supporters shook their heads—acutely aware that those comments would promptly come back to haunt him.
Bush quickly walked back the comment, saying he had misspoken and wasn’t talking about all women’s health programs.
“I was referring to the hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood—an organization that was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs,” Bush said in a statement. “Democrats and Republicans agree we absolutely must defund them and redirect those funds to other women’s health organizations.”
He and Hillary Clinton had a Twitter fight over it, too. “.@JebBush: You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” she wrote on Tuesday.
Bush replied with what he’s always said about abortion.
“.@HillaryClinton what’s absolutely, unequivocally wrong is giving taxpayer $ to an org whose practices show no regard for lives of unborn,” he wrote.
The former governor’s record on funding for women’s health issues and research largely belies his odd gaffe—and the criticism it’s drawn highlights just how central abortion politics could be to 2016.
As Florida governor, Bush did slash funding for Planned Parenthood. But he also won plaudits from community health centers for helping them access federal money.
And he signed legislation investing millions in programs aiming to fight breast and cervical cancer and to fund cancer research.
It’s a record that has something for everyone to love or hate: funds for crisis pregnancy centers, funds for abstinence-only sex ed, money directed to cancer research, and cash withdrawn from Planned Parenthood.
Like Governor Scott Walker—and unlike Senate Republicans—Bush can take credit for keeping some tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood—a fact that checks a critical box in the Republican primary. As The Huntington Post noted, Bush diverted $124,000 from Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida in 2002, directing that money to abstinence-only sex ed programs. He also signed legislation letting Floridians pay a fee to get “Choose Life” license plates, per PolitiFact Florida. The proceeds from that project went to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.
“Bush’s comments were no ‘ad lib,’” said Jess McIntosh, vice president for communications at EMILY’s List, in a statement. “In fact, he spent his career as governor eroding women’s access to health care and has made it a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.”
But, as PolitiFact notes, Bush also budgeted millions for a crisis pregnancy hotline that directed women to those centers. Besides the pro-life license plates, Bush also signed off on the creation of “End Breast Cancer” plates. According to the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation, those plates have generated $4 million.
Bush oversaw the direction of significant amounts of investment in women’s cancer research and prevention. He signed the Mary Brogan Breast And Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Act, which—per the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network—helped needy women with breast and cervical cancer get treatment. He also oversaw implementation of the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program, which received $36 million from 2006 to 2010 and helped fund breast cancer research.
But his decisions regarding cancer research funding weren’t without criticism. In 2005, he vetoed $30,000 that would have funded a cervical cancer task force. And Democratic state Representative Anne Gannon had harsh criticism for that move.
“The governor is greatly detached from the health issues that face women and this veto clearly shows his disconnect,” she said, according to The Gainesville Sun.
And in 2004, The Tampa Bay Times reported, he used his line-item veto power to cut $2 million in funding that would have gone to the University of Miami’s Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute.
Still, the governor won plaudits from the Florida Association of Community Health Centers for helping their clinics secure funding. Andrew Behrman, the group’s president and CEO, said Bush was “instrumental” in helping pass legislation to get those centers more funding to serve low-income patients.
“He was right there telling us, we can do this,” Behrman said. “He signed the bill immediately and it was a big help to us.”
“He’s just been supportive,” Behrman added.
3So while Bush’s record on women’s health issues is a little more complex than his garbled comments might have suggested, this is a presidential campaign where nuance exists in theory but rarely in practice—and where a 30-second speak-o can obscure millions of dollars spent on cancer research and prevention.