As Republicans prepare for their first presidential debate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was forced to walk back a statement he made Tuesday questioning federal spending on women’s healthcare as he appealed to evangelical voters.
Responding to a question about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which is under fire over its fetal tissue donation practices, Bush said the federal government should not give money to the organization.
“You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took, dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinary fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist, federally sponsored organizations, to provide quality care for women on a variety of health issues,” Bush continued, speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
As Democrats pounced on the statement, Bush quickly said he misspoke and was referring only to the $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“With regards to women’s health funding broadly, I misspoke, as there are countless community health centers, rural clinics, and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded. They provide critical services to all, but particularly low-income women who don’t have the access they need,” Bush said in a statement.
The kerfuffle stems from Bush’s at-times freewheeling — and some would argue rusty — campaigning style. He is more likely than some of his GOP rivals to veer from his script and to take questions from voters and reporters.
That has resulted in the occasional gaffe — such as his statement last month that Americans need to work longer hours — that could haunt him in the general election if Bush is the GOP nominee. Tuesday’s comments could have particular resonance among moderate women, a key voting bloc for any politician seeking the White House.
Democrats seized upon Bush’s words to argue that he is unfit for office.
“Jeb Bush is sure about one thing — he wants to restrict access to affordable healthcare for women,” said Kaylie Hanson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. “This backward ideology isn’t only the exact opposite of what women need from their next president — it could put the health of millions of women in jeopardy. Enough of this.”
Emily’s List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice, Democratic women, highlighted the millions of men and women who visit Planned Parenthood annually, and the nonabortion services the organization provides, such as breast cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, is expected to speak in Colorado on Tuesday — a swing state where issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights have dominated past elections. She tweeted at Bush: “You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”
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Times staff writer Kurtis Lee contributed to this report.