September 14, 2015 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday indicated he would not seek to defund Planned Parenthood in an upcoming government spending budget bill, Politico reports (Everett/Bresnahan, Politico, 9/11).
Following a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, some conservative lawmakers have said they will not support any government spending measure that includes funding for the organization. The government will shut down after Sept. 30 if lawmakers do not pass a continuing resolution to keep it funded through mid-December. Meanwhile, several standalone defunding measures have also been introduced, including a bill (HR 3134) proposed by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), a bill (HB 3443) from Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), and a measure (S 1881) from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
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.
Meanwhile, earlier last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told fellow conservatives that shutting down the government as part of an effort to defund Planned Parenthood could undermine conservative lawmakers. He and McConnell are initiating "a series of steps" to avoid a shutdown (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/11).
McConnell said a strategy by some conservatives to oppose a spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood is "an exercise in futility." It is unlikely such a bill could garner enough votes to pass in the Senate, and even it if it were to pass, it would face a veto from President Obama, according to Politico.
McConnell said he instead plans to pursue a "two-pronged" strategy, wherein he aims to pass a short-term spending bill to have more time to negotiate a longer-term spending measure while separately pushing a standalone bill (S 1553) that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Everett/Bresnahan, Politico, 9/11).
House Will Vote on Defunding Measure
In related news, the House this week plans to vote on Black's standalone bill to defund Planned Parenthood, Politico reports.
The bill would prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding for one year unless it stops performing abortions. According to Politico, the House is expected to pass the measure (Sherman, Politico, 9/11).
House Subcommittee To Consider Abortion Restrictions
In other related news, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on Thursday will consider two abortion-related proposals, The Hill reports.
The proposed measures would increase enforcement of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (PL 107-207) and a law (PL 108-105) that bans a certain abortion procedure. Under the proposed measures, providers who violate the laws could be barred from participating in Medicare, and states would be permitted to exclude those providers from Medicaid (Sullivan, The Hill, 9/11).
NY Times: Fetal Tissue Should Not Be Banned in 'Vicious, Continuing Assault on Planned Parenthood'
"The scurrilous attacks on Planned Parenthood" following the release of the CMP videos "have turned into attacks on fetal tissue research," and "[v]arious bills now threaten to curtail or eliminate research that has already benefited millions of Americans and is poised to benefit many more," a New York Times editorial states.
The editorial notes, "In the wake of the videos, at least 12 states have started inquiries into fetal tissue research or are considering bills that would make it impossible to use fetal tissue," pointing to recent efforts in Colorado and Wisconsin. Overall, the editorial notes that "only two of Planned Parenthood's 59 affiliates offer women who undergo elective abortions the opportunity to donate the fetuses for research if they wish."
According to the editorial, "Fetal cells were used to develop the original polio vaccine and are still used to make vaccines for rubella, shingles, chickenpox and an experimental Ebola vaccine." It adds, "The tissue is critical for studying conditions that affect the health of fetuses and newborn infants." The editorial further states that fetal tissue is used to "develop treatments for H.I.V., end-stage breast cancer, diabetes . . . Parkinson's,” and other conditions.
The editorial notes that the National Institutes of Health, which "spends money only on the research that experts consider most promising," last year provided $76 million for fetal tissue research. Meanwhile, "top scientists" from the University of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin are warning of a "devastating effect" on patients, researchers and the biotechnology industry should fetal tissue research be banned, according to the editorial.
"Fetal tissue is a precious medical resource," the editorial states, concluding, "It should be [used] for the many health benefits it can provide, not banned as part of a vicious, continuing assault on Planned Parenthood and the health services it provides to millions of women a year" (New York Times, 9/11).