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Abortion-Rights Opponents in Senate Introduce Bill To Defund Planned Parenthood

Abortion-Rights Opponents in Senate Introduce Bill To Defund Planned Parenthood

July 29, 2015 — Lawmakers in the Senate who oppose abortion rights have introduced a bill that would cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, following the release of a series of misleading videos targeting the organization, Politico reports (Bresnahan/Palmer, Politico, 7/28).

According to The Hill, the White House has voiced support for Planned Parenthood and will veto any potential bills aimed at defunding the organization (Ferris, The Hill, 7/28).

Background

An antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue. The videos depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/27). CMP released a third video on Tuesday (Fram, AP/Washington Post, 7/28).

Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. Meanwhile, supporters of Planned Parenthood said the videos are part of a decades-long campaign against the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/27).

Bill Details

The bill proposed Tuesday would cut off over $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood and redirect the funds to other women's health programs, a move Politico describes as "a bid to undermine ... complaints about the measure."

The measure was drafted by a working group of lawmakers led by Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa), James Lankford (Okla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.). More than 20 additional GOP lawmakers are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas).

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week (Bresnahan/Palmer, Politico, 7/28).

According to the AP/Post, restrictions on federal funding prevent it from being used for abortions except in instances of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life, making preventive services the main target of abortion-rights opponents' "'defund' efforts." Planned Parenthood in its last annual report stated that, in addition to providing abortion services, it performs 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections annually, provides 3.6 million devices and procedures for contraception and performs several hundred thousand cancer screenings (AP/Washington Post, 7/28).

Lawmakers, Planned Parenthood Respond

Lawmakers in the Senate who support abortion rights have said they will oppose the measure, calling the bill another conservative attempt to weaken women's health programs. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) added that it will be difficult for conservative lawmakers to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass the measure.

According to the AP/Post, lawmakers who oppose abortion rights have also expressed their opposition to the measure. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), said in an interview that he will not support the bill because Planned Parenthood "provide[s] all kinds of primary health care" to women. In addition, he noted federal funds are already prohibited from being used to fund most abortions (AP/Washington Post, 7/28).

Meanwhile, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, in response to the proposed bill said, "It's outrageous, not to mention wildly unpopular, that politicians are using this widely discredited attack against Planned Parenthood to push through legislation rolling back women's access to healthcare."

Laguens added that lawmakers who support the bill are now "threaten[ing] to cut basic, preventive health care -- lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, [sexually transmitted infections] testing and treatment, and well-woman exams -- from millions of Americans. This failed in 2011 and it is going to fail again" (Politico, 7/28).

House Unlikely To Consider Defunding Measure Before August Recess

Meanwhile, the House seems unlikely to consider a measure to defund Planned Parenthood before the chamber adjourns for its August recess, according to House aides, The Hill reports.

The measure, proposed by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) would block federal funding for Planned Parenthood pending an investigation into the organization. According to The Hill, the bill currently has 140 supporters. However, a GOP leadership aide said Tuesday that the House likely will not consider the bill soon, adding that "the political reality" is the bill does not have enough support (The Hill, 7/28).

Poll: 63% of Voters Oppose Efforts To Defund Planned Parenthood

In related news, 63% of registered voters said they oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, according to a poll commissioned by the group, The Hill reports.

The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates from July 23 to July 26 and included responses from 800 registered voters. It found that "voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Planned Parenthood over one calling to end funding, by a margin of 58 to 26 percent."

Further, the poll found that 52% of voters are more likely to believe Planned Parenthood's explanation of the videos, while only 25% are more likely to believe the video-makers' claims about the organization.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said the "poll shows much of what we already knew: that defunding Planned Parenthood is a losing proposition not just for the millions of men and women who come through Planned Parenthood's doors every day, but also with voters who don't want to see their politicians focused on restricting lifesaving care" (Sullivan, The Hill, 7/28).

HHS Will Not Investigate Planned Parenthood

In other related news, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Tuesday the department has no plans to investigate Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation practice, Modern Healthcare reports.

During testimony for the House Education and Workforce Committee, Burwell said it appeared the practices were legal. However, she noted HHS will update NIH's grant process for organizations that use fetal tissue for medical research to require such grantees to confirm that they comply with pertinent state and federal laws.

Burwell said the Department of Justice, not HHS, would be the appropriate department to investigate Planned Parenthood if needed (Dickson, Modern Healthcare, 7/28). Attorney General Loretta Lynch (D) already has said DOJ is "going to review all the information and determine what steps, if any, to take at the appropriate time" (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/27).

Planned Parenthood Cyberattack Leaks Employee Data

In other news, hackers involved in a cyberattack on Planned Parenthood have released the names and contract information, including email addresses, for more than 300 of the organization's employees, the Los Angeles Times reports (Shively, Los Angeles Times, 7/28).

The hacker group -- calling itself 3301 -- claimed to have breached Planned Parenthood's information systems on Sunday night. At the time, the hackers said they planned to make public the not-for-profit's website databases, as well as the names and email addresses of Planned Parenthood workers. There are no signs that the hackers accessed patient information.

Planned Parenthood has informed the FBI and DOJ of the cyberattack (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/28).