updated 4/3/2013 11:49:54 AM ET 2013-04-03T15:49:54

Despite the "reboot" effort Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus talked about following his party's crushing electoral losses in November, that message of change doesn't seem to be resonating.

Move over gay marriage—it’s sex education programs the Republicans are gunning for now.

Despite the “reboot” effort Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus talked about following his party’s crushing electoral losses in November, that message of change doesn’t seem to be resonating.

Instead of shying away from the toxic social issues that have damaged the party’s reputation of late, many state lawmakers have forged ahead with controversial bills that could work to further alienate moderate voters. Republican policymakers in North Dakota, Arkansas and Texas in recent months have been responsible for passing some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Now, politicians in these three states are looking to defund sex education programs for at-risk teenagers.

“As a political party, you can be still pro-life but advocate for responsible behavior. I think all of this coming on the heels of the ‘reboot’ again further exacerbates the problem we are having. They did not get the message,” former RNC Chairman Michael Steele told Chris Matthews on Hardball Tuesday.

At the heart of the matter in these defunding efforts appears to be the role conservative boogeyman Planned Parenthood would play in the sex-ed programs. The case garnering the most attention was the attempt in North Dakota to attach an amendment to the state’s latest anti-abortion bill that would have blocked a $1.2 million federal grant for a sex education program for teens who are homeless or in foster programs. The grant was targeted because Planned Parenthood is to be involved in administering the program in conjunction with North Dakota State University.

Word filtered out Tuesday night that the amendment was being struck from the abortion bill—conservative lawmakers couldn’t stomach an organization, which they perceive as an advocacy group for abortion, being involved in even well-meaning sex education efforts.

“If your problem is with Planned Parenthood, then make that the central argument…but don’t nickel and dime. Don’t cut and slice through programs that have nothing to do with abortion,” Steele said. “States can do what they want to do with respect for Planned Parenthood funding. Where I have a problem in this particular case is not affording a homeless child, a child that is not in the system to have access to information that could protect their lives, could be beneficial to them is some way.”

Lauren Ashburn of took a larger picture view of contraception vs. abortion argument, pointing out that Republicans can’t have their cake and eat it too.

“I think Republicans, what they need to do, is choose. They need to choose is abortion more important, or is contraception more important to them as an issue because right now, you can’t have it both ways in this society,” Ashburn said. “They are trying to have it both ways in this society. I think that you have to understand from a political point of view that you can’t.”

Video: GOP takes aim at sex ed for teens

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    >>> welcome back to "hardball." some republican-led state legislatures have been pretty strict on abortion laws over the past several months. we've been covering that. now they're stepping up. gop lawmakers in texas , arkansas , north dakota . think of those states. texas , arkansas , north dakota , trying to restrict access to sex ed . sex education praograms, in particular those associated with planned parenthood . in north dakota , trying to block a $1.2 million federal grant that would provide sex ed counseling services to at-risk teens. in arkansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would defund an hiv and std, sexually transmitted disease program, because planned parenthood administers. in texas republicans are proposing a bill that would stop planned parenthood from distributing sex ed materials from students. elizabeth nash tells the " huffington post ," "for a couple years we've been dealing with attempts to defund planned parenthood but now we're seeing that potentially expand to these sex ed educational programs that give teens 9 information they need to prevent pregnancy." let me go to you, lauren. i do think women should get the first say on this to put it lightly. what do you think is going on with the old problem when men don't get pregnant, women do? women get pregnant when they want to get pregnant, they get pregnant when they don't want to get pregnant. sometimes when they don't want to get pregnant, they can live with that. sometime ths they get pregnant when they don't want to, they're 15 years old. whatever the situation is, plan the parenthood plays the role of helping them deal with that, help them deal if it does happen or doesn't happen. they're there to make sure they make rational decision . why would any state legislature want to have them bug out at this point?

    >> because they don't back abortion and planned parenthood advocates abortion. that's why. in this case, in particular, however --

    >> what do you mean advocates abortion?

    >> advocates it, means saying, here's a pamphlet, here's your choice.

    >> is that advocating it?

    >> it is making the information available.

    >> that's different.

    >> i don't know about that. i think if you are saying to someone, here is a choice and here is a choice, you're advocating both positions.

    >> you think they're handing them out like travel brochures?

    >> you don't know what they do. have you ever had an abortion?

    >> helping the person have the opportunity to make decisions is different than advocating.

    >> okay. if they're helping to make --

    >> i thought they were distributing birth control device and birth control information so a young girl who doesn't want to get pregnant won't. isn't that what they do?

    >> i think we were talking about sex education , right?

    >> sex education , avoiding getting pregnant.

    >> sex education is educating teens about, especially in this case, homeless kids, about what they can do and how they should do it.

    >> is it teaching them how to get pregnant or how not to get pregnant?

    >> i think it's teaching them how not to get pregnant, chris.

    >> you're on my page.

    >> absolutely, i think --

    >> that's why they call it planned.

    >> it's planned parenthood . there's more to this than meets the eye. that's been the rub for a lot of conservatives, what you were just saying about the advocacy. whether or not there is true advoca advocacy. whether or not there is in the process of educating you about contraception, for example, that the abortion piece is a part of that. that's where all of this boils down. look, states can do what they want to do with respect to planned parent funding, particularly for status funding planned parenthood . where i have a problem in this particular case is the not affording a homeless child, a child who's in the system, the state-run juvenile system, for example, to have access to information that could protect their lives, that could be beneficial to them in some way. you have it in parochial schools , sex education . you have it in public schools . sex education .

    >> what knowledge are they denying --

    >> i'm not saying they are denying. what i'm saying, for hose who are tried to get at planned parenthood through cutting off funding of sex education programs, that opens a door i don't think we need to open up. there's one thing to say we don't like your promoting abortion, advocating abortion. there's something very different to say we don't want to inform a child who's on the street, living on street who doesn't have access to an educational facility.

    >> or to parents.

    >> or to parents. or to some structure.

    >> i want to get back to you, because you're a woman. a girl is 15 or 16 years old, may not have good parents.

    >> or they're gone.

    >> she may think you only get pregnant 1 out of 100 times . she may have all kinds of ideas. is it better to have someone come in she can talk with, say, you know, the odds are pretty good at your age of having a baby if you have sex a lot. you're going to get a baby and that's going to happen. if you don't want a baby, don't act like you're the not going to get one because you're going to get one.

    >> i think republicans what they need to do is choose. they need to choose, is abortion more important or contraception more important to them as an issue, right? right now you can't have it vote bo both ways in this society. they're trying to have it both ways if this society. i'm not saying that -- i'm not stating a position either way , but i think that you have to understand from a political point of view --

    >> and common sense, too.

    >> -- that you can.

    >> as a political party , i think that's a very good division there. as a political party , you have to be able to advocate, you know -- you can be still pro-life, but advocate for responsible behavior, advocate for --

    >> if you're pro-life, you would technically be for contraception.

    >> yeah.

    >> i'm wondering -- let's go back to the reboot. is republican party smart to have this once again -- but actually being known as the party that doesn't like sex ed ? you think that's a healthy position to be in?

    >> i think all of this coming on the heels of the reboot, again, further exacerbates the problem.

    >> they didn't get the message.

    >> it makes people look mean spirited. republicans look mean spirited. you're taking something away from kids who are homeless.

    >> it seems like the scarlet letter to me. just seems like they're looking for somebody, whoa, look at her, she did it.

    >> if your problem is with planned parenthood , then make that the central argument. and why you have this issue of planned parenthood . don't nickel and dime, don't cut and slice two programs that have nothing to do with abortion.

    >> in other words, they're really against planned parenthood because it's involved with abortion, not because it's involved with sex ed .

    >> you talked about the culture issue, you're losing on gay marriage , right?

    >> he's free at last here, by the way.

    >> free. that's right. you're out.

    >> it's all good.

    >> there is no --

    >> you're on the same page. the republican party has to choose about being responsible, or be ignoring that and be antiabortion or something.

    >> bill clinton said it, right, safe, legal.

    >> i'm with him. i'm with hillary clinton . she said it, too. safe, legal, rare. thank you, lauren ashburn, a good moderate i think conservative. somewhere near the middle. thank you, michael steele .

    >> we'll never know.

    >>> up next, why washington could be driving us into a bigger economic crisis than the one we just endured. former reagan budget director david stockman is coming here. coming to talk about lots here. this guy's got some radical ideas. this is "hardball." the place for politics.


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