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The federal government came within hours of shutting down last week over funding for a single organization: Planned Parenthood. In the end, the group's funding was left intact. It's not the first time abortion opponents have tried -and failed - to separate Planned Parenthood from its federal funding.

NPR'S Julie Rovner looks at just why abortion foes continue to target this organization.

JULIE ROVNER: Efforts to end Planned Parenthood's funding shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to people who pay attention to the abortion debate. Indiana Republican Mike Pence announced his intention to push the defunding effort back in early January.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): And let's end taxpayer support for abortion providers - specifically, Planned Parenthood - once and for all.

ROVNER: Now, to be clear, Planned Parenthood doesn't use federal funds to perform abortions. That's been illegal under federal law since the 1970s. But as Pence said on the House floor when he tried unsuccessfully to defund the organization in 2009, to him and his allies, the abortion funding ban is merely a technicality.

Rep. PENCE: There's no question that money that Planned Parenthood receives for its operational expenses from the federal government free up resources that can be used to provide and promote abortions through its abortion clinics.

ROVNER: And Planned Parenthood does do a lot of abortions, which is what makes it a target to anti-abortion activists like Marjorie Dannenfelser. She's president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and has been running one of the anti-Planned Parenthood campaigns.

Ms. MARJORIE DANNENFELSER (President, Susan B. Anthony List): It is the biggest abortion franchise in the nation. One in 10 of its clients receive abortion. A quarter of abortions occurring in this nation are performed by Planned Parenthood clinics.

ROVNER: All of which is true - but Planned Parenthood also does a lot more, points out Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president.

Ms. CECILE RICHARDS (President, Planned Parenthood): Last year, we provided nearly 1 million pap smears, 830,000 breast exams, nearly 4 million tests and treatments for STDs, including HIV.

ROVNER: In fact, notes Richards, one in five women in the United States has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic. And for many, going to Planned Parenthood is about more than just getting birth control.

Ms. RICHARDS: For more than half our patients, Planned Parenthood is the only nurse or doctor they will see all year.

ROVNER: Which makes the organization highly popular, and makes anti-abortion activists that much more irritated that Planned Parenthood continues to get federal funding - about $360 million in 2009.

Deana Rohlinger teaches sociology at Florida State University, and has written extensively on the politics of abortion. She says what the anti-abortion movement hates most about Planned Parenthood is its persistence.

Professor DEANA ROHLINGER (Sociology, Florida State University): Because it basically stands in the way of its primary goal, which is to make the abortion procedure inaccessible in the United States.

ROVNER: Over the years, Rohlinger says, the anti-abortion movement has had a lot of success cutting back on abortions by putting various limitations on abortion clinics - things like requiring certain types of equipment or special paperwork.

Prof. ROHLINGER: And Planned Parenthood has been pretty resistant to this and has, by and large, refused to quit offering the procedure despite these different hurdles.

ROVNER: Anti-abortion lawmakers have also found Planned Parenthood to be a convenient foil - something they can point to, to rally their base. But Rohlinger says that hasn't always been easy, either.

Prof. ROHLINGER: They've really tried to challenge the notion that Planned Parenthood is a family planning organization, and have tried to associate them solely with the abortion issue. And it hasn't been very successful.

ROVNER: Just last Friday, for example, Arizona Republican Jon Kyl had this to say on the Senate floor.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): You don't have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood. And that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.

ROVNER: In fact, just the opposite is true. Well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is not abortion. Kyl's office later said his speech, quote, wasn't intended to be a factual statement.

Meanwhile, as part of the budget deal, the Senate will vote separately this week on whether to cut off Planned Parenthood's funding. That vote is expected to fail. But the fight will, unquestionably, continue.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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