September 30, 2015 — Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, testified on Tuesday before Congress in response to recently released misleading, secretly recorded videos targeting the organization, the New York Times reports (Shear, New York Times, 9/29).
The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress.
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. Planned Parenthood last month submitted a report to Congress that found that videos were manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27).
During a five-hour hearing on Tuesday, conservative lawmakers argued that Planned Parenthood should not receive federal funding, while Richards and other lawmakers defended the organization and explained how defunding Planned Parenthood would restrict reproductive health care.
In her testimony, Richards said Planned Parenthood does not "make any profit off federal money" (Cassella, Reuters, 9/29). She also denounced the videos, saying, "The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law -- and once again our opponents failed." She added, "Planned Parenthood policies not only comply with, but indeed go beyond the requirements of the law. The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue" (Haberkorn, Politico, 9/29).
Richards also countered conservative lawmakers' claims that women could seek care at alternative health care providers. She said Planned Parenthood sees 2.7 million patients annually and that defunding the organization would be especially harmful to uninsured, low-income and rural patients (Reuters, 9/29). According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, up to 630,000 patients could have reduced access to health services, such as birth control, screening for sexually transmitted infections and other reproductive care if Planned Parenthood is defunded (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/17).
Meanwhile, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) criticized the hearing. "'What is Congress doing here?" he asked, adding, "We're having an argument that's never going to end about abortion, but we're proposing to proceed in a way that will have collateral consequences that compromises ... women's health" (Reuters, 9/29).
Similarly, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said conservative lawmakers were conducting a "relentless campaign" against Planned Parenthood, adding, "Make no mistake: Despite what we hear, [conservatives] are doubling down on their war against women." She said, "We need to recognize this fight for what it is -- it's about banning a woman's right to choose" (New York Times, 9/29).
Congress Likely To Pass Temporary Spending Bill
In related news, the House and Senate on Wednesday are expected to pass a temporary spending bill that would not defund Planned Parenthood, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Taylor, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/30).
Following the release of the CMP videos, some conservatives have called for Congress to defund the organization. Further, some 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/29).
The temporary spending measure, if approved, would give lawmakers 10 weeks to agree on a longer-term spending measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have talked with President Obama, and that he expects negotiations over the longer-term spending measure will begin soon (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/30).
House Panels Working on Legislation That Would Defund Planned Parenthood
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday passed a piece of a budget reconciliation package, which eventually will be combined with other portions of the package that would defund Planned Parenthood, Politico Pro reports (Ehley/Pradhan, Politico Pro, 9/30).
The reconciliation process allows certain legislation to advance in the Senate with a simple majority vote (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/29).
The House Energy and Commerce Committee over Tuesday and Wednesday has been marking up the portion of the reconciliation package that would defund Planned Parenthood (House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing notice, 9/25). Meanwhile, the Education and Workforce Committee is considering another portion of the package (Politico Pro, 9/30).
Medicaid Funding Denial Bill Advances in House
In other related news, the House on Tuesday voted 236-193 to advance a bill (HR 3495) that would allow states to block Medicaid funding to groups providing abortion care, The Hill reports.
According to The Hill, the measure would allow states to end Medicaid contracts with organizations that provide abortion care, but it would not increase states' ability to end such contracts with organizations that provide abortion care only in instances of rape or incest, or life endangerment (Marcos, The Hill, 9/29). According to Politico Pro, the measure would help states such as Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana, which have tried to end Medicaid funding for the organization (Mershon, Politico Pro, 9/30).
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called out the bill, saying, "It's an attempt to eliminate health care services for women across the board using the Planned Parenthood witch hunt as an excuse" (The Hill, 9/29).
The White House has issued a veto threat on the bill (Politico Pro, 9/30).