Republicans Square Off with Planned Parenthood on Capitol Hill

REUTERS/GARY CAMERON

REUTERS/GARY CAMERON

As Republicans in Congress kicked off another effort to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the organization’s president told lawmakers that the firestorm of controversy is the result of fraudulent videos that distort the organization’s work and tissue donation practices.

Cecile Richards said her group is being targeted because of “deceptively edited videos released by a group that is dedicated to making abortion illegal.” The “outrageous accusations” based on those videos — that the organization is profiting from selling fetal tissue — are “offensive and categorically untrue.”

Richards argued that most of the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives is reimbursement under Medicaid and other programs for health care services like birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.”No federal funds pay for abortion services, she said in written testimony. “except in the very limited circumstances permitted by law — when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered.”

But Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said it appears to him “this is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidy.” He said the group has its own revenue streams, and “Planned Parenthood is an organization with massive salaries… (and) exorbitant travel expenses.” The focus of the hearing, he said, is how the organization is funded and how it uses federal dollars. Chaffetz released data showing that government funding makes up 41% of the group’s revenues.

Several congressional committees have been investigating Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos released this summer suggesting that officials in the group discussed selling fetal tissue from abortions, and GOP leaders are moving to set up a new special committee to continue the investigation. Republicans have pushed several votes in the House and Senate to eliminate federal funding for the group in a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded past Wednesday, but those measures have failed.

On Tuesday, House Republicans began moving a separate bill, called “budget reconciliation,” that would carry the same funding ban but would not be subject to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate that has stymied the other attempts. At several hearings, outraged lawmakers have accused the organization of “selling baby parts.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, said Democrats wanted testimony from David Daleiden, of the Center for Medical Progress, which produced the videos, but Republicans rejected that request. “Do you want to align yourselves with radical extremists?” Cummings asked his Republican colleagues.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Republicans want to shift Planned Parenthood’s federal funding to community health centers — “take the money from the guys who are doing the bad things” and give it to groups that are not.

Richards said what the videos show are practitioners describing efforts to provide fetal tissue for medial research. Fetal tissue donation is “a minuscule part of the work of Planned Parenthood. Of the hundreds of health centers that are part of the Planned Parenthood network, currently just 1 percent facilitate their patients’ tissue donation in support of fetal tissue research.” Nevertheless, she strongly defended the practice. “While our involvement with fetal tissue research is a small component of Planned Parenthood, it offers the potential of lifesaving research.”

Rep Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said she fears “taxpayer dollars are being used to free up services that you provide that are aberrant services in the view of many taxpayers.”

“The package will defund Planned Parenthood and instead invest in community health centers that provide women’s health care,” said Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“Everyone knows the president won’t sign this reconciliation bill,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. “That may be one of the motivations for this bill – pure politics to send a bill to the president that he is sure to veto and be upheld.”

The House also passed a bill Tuesday to withhold Medicaid payments from Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions. The Medicaid money cannot, by law, be used for abortion services.

The White House said Monday that Obama will veto that bill if it passes both chambers of Congress. The Senate is unlikely to approve the legislation.

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Christopher Capwell

Screenwriter, Feminist, Political Junkie. B.A. Comperative Literature working on an MFA in Creative Writing. Lover of Fitzgerald, Junot Diaz, Aaron Sorkin, Mark Boal, Charlie Kaufman, Diablo Cody and Chistopher McQuarrie.

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