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From Health Law Daily, September 29, 2015

Funding fight on fire: House hearing gets heated over Planned Parenthood

By Bryant Storm, J.D.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to evaluate taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. and its affiliates. The hearing considered the appropriateness of the estimated $450 million in funds that Planned Parenthood receives each year. Through heated questioning and impassioned witness testimony, the hearing addressed the potential impact of defunding the reproductive health care organization. Statements and questions at the hearing focused heavily on the issue of controversial videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, purporting to show Planned Parenthood providers discussing the harvesting and sale of fetal tissue for profit. The hearing was designed to serve as part of the committee’s ongoing Planned Parenthood investigation of the issue.

Opening statements. Comparing what he characterized as excess spending on reproductive services to the relatively limited spending on cancer research, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) criticized government spending on organizations like Planned Parenthood. Chaffetz indicated that because Planned Parenthood had more than $100 million in revenue in the previous year and because the organization’s president receives a salary of about $600,000 a year, a reduction of government funding would not be detrimental to the financially successful organization. Chaffetz also criticized Planned Parenthood for spending $22 million on lobbying or redistricting efforts—issues that, he asserted, do not directly address the health care needs of low-income individuals. Although Chaffetz also raised the issue of recently released videos from the Center for Medical Progress, he indicated that the primary focus of the hearing was the issue of how the organization is funded and spends its money.

Partisan politics. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md) passionately stated that the hearing was important to clarify whether “partisan warfare” was being conducted on ideological or factual grounds. Cummings addressed the activity of anti-abortion activist David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress. Referring to that organization’s videos, Cummings stated the importance of acknowledging the fact that Daleiden engaged in a “three year campaign of deceit” that led to allegations that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the illegal selling of fetal tissues. Cummings urged the importance of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. He warned House Republicans that the political discord and threats of a government shutdown over the Planned Parenthood controversy were unwisely based upon the manipulation of facts and attacks on the constitutional right of women’s’ health care decisions.

Witness testimony. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, spoke on behalf of Planned Parenthood and in support of the funding that the organization receives. In her testimony, to illustrate the importance of the organization, Richards explained that one in five women have sought care from Planned Parenthood. Additionally, she clarified that the government funding does not provide for abortion services except for in the extreme cases provided by law—“when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered.” Richards further clarified, addressing the Center for Medical Progress videos, that donating fetal tissues is legal and occurs at only 1 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities. Richards called the allegations against Planned Parenthood related to the selling of fetal tissue, “baseless” and “categorically untrue.” Additionally she testified that those allegations arose from inaccurate and “heavily edited” videos. In response to fervent questioning from Chaffetz regarding the organization’s spending habits, Richards explained that none of the federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives is used to fund lobbying or political activities.

Funding. Amidst threats to shut down the government over the Planned Parenthood funding issue, the Senate advanced a temporary funding measure on September 28, 2015, to keep federal agencies operating through December 11, 2015. Notably, the measure does not include language to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Although the measure requires final approval in the House and Senate, the action is a preliminary indication that the Planned Parenthood controversy may not cause a shutdown. Additional reports suggest that House and Senate Republicans will turn to other methods—budget reconciliation or new legislation—to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood. However, because President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation removing funding from the organization, congressional leaders will likely not garner the necessary support to remove Planned Parenthood funding.

Companies: Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Center for Medical Progress

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