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House Begins Hearings on Planned Parenthood; Conservative Lawmakers Plan Defunding Efforts

House Begins Hearings on Planned Parenthood; Conservative Lawmakers Plan Defunding Efforts

September 9, 2015 — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on Planned Parenthood, following the release of a series of misleading videos targeting the organization, The Hill reports (Ferris [1], The Hill, 9/8).

Background

The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.

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.

In August, Planned Parenthood submitted a report to Congress that found the videos were heavily manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27).

Hearing Details

According to AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, the hearing on Wednesday included testimony from Priscilla Smith, director of Yale Law School's Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, and James Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life, as well as testimony from two women who are antiabortion-rights advocates (Fram, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/9). The hearing will not include any representatives from Planned Parenthood or CMP (Ferris [1],The Hill, 9/8).

According to prepared testimony, Smith condemns the videos. "There is simply no evidence in these misleadingly edited videos of a violation" of any laws, she said in the prepared testimony.

Smith added that the videos' conversations about the cost of fetal tissue donation were failed efforts by CMP to "entrap" Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, according to his prepared testimony, Bopp claims that the videos show Planned Parenthood has broken several federal laws on fetal tissue.

Three other congressional committees also are scheduled to hold hearings on Planned Parenthood (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/9).

Conservative Lawmakers Mull Defunding Efforts

In related news, conservative lawmakers on Wednesday are meeting to plan their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, The Hill reports.

According to The Hill, conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate are weighing several proposed measures that target the organization. For example, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) proposed a bill (HR 3134) that would suspend all federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a year, while the organization is investigated. Meanwhile, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) proposed a separate measure (S 1881), already rejected in the Senate, that would have permanently cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood (Ferris/Sullivan, The Hill, 9/8).

A third measure, which Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) proposed on Tuesday, would cut all Title X funding for Planned Parenthood and move the funding to other women's health centers. According to The Hill, the measure would affect roughly $60 million out of the $500 million Planned Parenthood receives in federal funds, most of which come from Medicaid. The proposed bill also would require government auditors to conduct a two-year investigation into Planned Parenthood (Ferris [2], The Hill, 9/8).

Meanwhile, according to The Hill, 28 conservative lawmakers in the House have signed a letter saying they will not support any government spending measure that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. The letter originally was submitted in July, when it included 18 signatures. An aide to Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who is spearheading the letter, said the letter would close later this week to give time to lawmakers returning from the August recess to consider signing it. Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is circulating a similar letter in the Senate, which should be finalized in a few weeks (Shabad, The Hill, 9/8).

House Committee Finds No Wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood

In other related news, Democratic lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a report finding that Planned Parenthood has not engaged in any illegal practices, Politico Pro reports.

In its investigation, the committee interviewed officials from the organization and from three fetal tissue procurement companies that currently work or previously worked with Planned Parenthood clinics. The lawmakers found no evidence that the clinics are profiting from fetal tissue donation or that providers are in any way altering abortion practices to obtain fetal tissue.

The report also found that of the two Planned Parenthood clinics that participate in fetal tissue donation programs, only one is being reimbursed for costs, at $60 per tissue specimen. Fetal tissue procurement company executives confirmed that reimbursement ranges between $45 and $60. In the past five years, another four clinics have participated in fetal tissue donation.

Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers have not yet issued the results of their investigation (Mershon, Politico Pro, 9/9).

Study: Planned Parenthood Only Contraception Provider in Some Areas

Meanwhile, a Guttmacher Institute study published Tuesday in Health Affairs found that Planned Parenthood might be the sole contraception provider for low-income women in some parts of the U.S., The Hill reports.

Guttmacher performed the study at the request of the Congressional Budget Office, which sought to determine areas where Planned Parenthood is the only option for women seeking contraception.

The study found that Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net family planning center available in one-fifth of the 491 U.S. counties where its clinics are located. In two-thirds of these counties, Planned Parenthood clinics provide services for at least half of women receiving contraception from safety-net health centers.

According to The Hill, some conservative lawmakers have argued that funding for Planned Parenthood should be shifted to community health centers. However, the Guttmacher study found that Planned Parenthood clinics serve a large proportion of low-income women who rely on their services. In addition, while the organization represents 10% of publicly funded family planning clinics, it serves 36% of the patients at these centers. Further, the study found that Planned Parenthood generally offers a more diverse range of contraceptive options than other providers.

The study authors said the effects of defunding Planned Parenthood are uncertain but that other providers would be unlikely to offer the same level of care in the meantime. "We cannot predict whether or to what extent health centers operated by other providers could fill the significant gap in the family planning safety net that would be created if Planned Parenthood health centers were defunded -- and therefore lost to the communities they serve," the authors said, adding, "Certainly in the short term, it is doubtful that other providers could step up in a timely way to absorb the millions of women suddenly left without their preferred source of care and whether those providers could offer the same degree of accessible, quality contraceptive care offered by Planned Parenthood" (Sullivan, The Hill, 9/8).

Sacramento Bee Editorial Board Calls on Lawmakers To "Lay Off" Planned Parenthood

In related news, a Sacramento Bee editorial noted that, "given the months of hysteria around an undercover video campaign that purported, questionably, to show Planned Parenthood illegally selling aborted fetal tissue," the recent arson at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Wash., "was no surprise."

According to the editorial, conservative lawmakers spearheading a defunding effort against Planned Parenthood that could result in a government shutdown "need to ask themselves who, exactly, is being served here." The editorial explains that "[h]alf of the adults in this country, and a majority of women, are pro-choice -- they want to preserve a woman's right to an abortion." Further, the editorial notes that "Planned Parenthood already is prohibited by law from using public money for abortions" and that "[m]ost of the nonprofit's federal support either comes from Medicaid or from Title X money that, among other things, allows clinics to distribute [affordable or no-cost] contraception."

"A lot of people ... would fall through the cracks if a known quantity like Planned Parenthood weren't there to catch them," particularly low-income women, the editorial continues, noting that "[e]ighty percent of the group's patients live on 150 percent of the federal poverty level or below." The editorial adds that while it "isn't clear" how conservative lawmakers would address "those Planned Parenthood clients ... the focus seems mainly to be on [antiabortion-rights] outlets that focus on talking pregnant women out of abortion, not checking them for breast cancer or" sexually transmitted infections.

"[T]his fight benefits no one," but "the hysteria around it has incited real violence and damage," the editorial continues, noting that the "Washington clinic didn't even perform abortions." Conservative lawmakers should "pull back before some unhinged person damages more than mere property," the editorial concludes (Sacramento Bee, 9/8).