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Senate Blocks Measure To Defund Planned Parenthood; Conservative Lawmakers Mull Other Tactics

Senate Blocks Measure To Defund Planned Parenthood; Conservative Lawmakers Mull Other Tactics

August 4, 2015 — The Senate on Monday blocked legislation (S 1881) that would defund Planned Parenthood, in a 53-46 vote, the AP/New York Times reports.

According to the AP/Times, supporters of the legislation fell seven votes short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to block the bill in a procedural move that allows him to schedule the measure for another vote at a later time (AP/New York Times, 8/3).

Background

Senators who oppose abortion rights introduced the measure last week. The bill would cut off more than $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood and redirect the funds to other women's health programs. The bill was introduced in the wake of a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood.

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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/31).

Measure's Failure Could Set Up Defunding Fight Through Budget Process

According to Politico, the defunding measure's failure could set up a fight over whether to include funding for Planned Parenthood in the federal budget this fall (Everett/Bresnahan, Politico, 8/3).

Conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate have voiced opposition against any government spending measures that allocate funding for Planned Parenthood, which could lead to another government shutdown dispute in the fall. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending legislation to keep the government in operation (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/3).

For example, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said the issue now "almost certainly becomes part of any final decision about how to move forward on funding," adding, "There will be a larger discussion on this." Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said lawmakers opposed to abortion rights "should use any and every procedural means we have available to end funding for Planned Parenthood."

However, some conservatives in the Senate are hoping to avoid such a fight. For example, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are proposing an alternative measure that would require Congress to complete a 90-day investigation into the organization and to then defund any branches of the group that took part in illegal activities (Politico, 8/3).

Meanwhile, the White House has said President Obama will not support efforts to defund the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/31).

CBO Says Defunding Measure Would Result in Less Medicaid Use, More Pregnancies

The Congressional Budget Office has said defunding Planned Parenthood could result in lower use of Medicaid services and more pregnancies, Politico Pro reports.

According to CBO's scoring of S 1881, defunding Planned Parenthood would cause a decline in Medicaid utilization because people who previously received certain Medicaid-covered services from Planned Parenthood would have to seek out many of those services at other medical facilities.

In addition, CBO said there could be a decline in the use of services that help women avoid pregnancy. "Reduced use of such services would be expected to lead to additional births, increasing federal spending, primarily for Medicaid," CBO said, adding that "some of those children would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs," which could also affect spending (Politico Pro, 8/4).

Richards Responds to Ongoing Attack

In related news, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on Monday discussed the ongoing attack against Planned Parenthood, the New York Times reports.

Richards said, "There hasn't been a moment in [Planned Parenthood's] history, when we were pushing forward on reproductive health care rights and access for women, that someone wasn't after us." Further, she noted that CMP's videos are "part of a much larger and longer campaign to try to end access to both safe and legal abortion" and "certainly to end access to Planned Parenthood." She noted, "The depravity of these tactics and the invasion -- the willingness of this group to invade the most personal, private space and to violate the medical relationships -- I've never seen anything as low."

Richards added that Planned Parenthood will continue to donate fetal tissue. "I feel strongly that even though [fetal tissue donation] is a very small part of what Planned Parenthood does, that women and families who choose to make fetal tissue donations, that decision or that choice that they have made is really important to them," she said, adding, "And that research is really important to millions of Americans" (Calmes, New York Times, 8/3).

Lawmakers Call For Other Efforts Targeting Planned Parenthood

Senators who oppose abortion rights also are proposing other measures targeting Planned Parenthood, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports.

For example, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has introduced a bill that would require the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to look into whether Planned Parenthood violated federal law, such as by altering abortion procedures to procure fetal tissue or by selling tissue for profit. The bill would fund the investigation by cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. According to "Floor Action," the bill would also authorize investigations into other groups that fund abortion care or provide abortions (Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 8/3).

Meanwhile, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) has introduced a bill (HR 3429) that would prohibit the sale or exchange of funds for fetal tissue, even if the funds are intended solely to cover procurement and transportation costs. According to The Hill's "Floor Action," the measure currently has 24 co-sponsors (Marcos, "Floor Action," The Hill, 8/3).

Federal Judge Extends Restraining Order Blocking Videos

In related news, a federal judge on Monday extended a temporary restraining order that blocks CMP from releasing videos recorded at meetings of the National Abortion Federation, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Leff, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4).

Federal Judge William Orrick on Friday issued a restraining order against CMP hours after NAF filed a lawsuit against the antiabortion-rights group. The order blocks CMP from releasing any video footage recorded at NAF's annual meetings in 2014 and 2015, as well as from releasing dates of NAF's future meetings and the names and addresses of NAF members.

NAF requested the restraining order against the videos on Friday in a San Francisco-based federal court, charging that CMP had infiltrated NAF meetings and recorded NAF members. The group expressed concern that the members could be in danger if the videos are released (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/3).

During a hearing in the case on Monday, Orrick extended the restraining order to remain in place until Aug. 27, when a hearing on NAF's request for a permanent injunction against the videos will occur (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4).

La. Gov. Blocks Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood

Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has ended a state contract under which Planned Parenthood received state Medicaid funds, citing CMP's secretly filmed videos, The Hill reports.

Jindal said in a statement that the agreement permits "either party ... to cancel the contract at will after providing written notice." According to state officials, the state has given Planned Parenthood 30 days' notice of the change.

According to The Hill, past attempts by states to block Medicaid funding from going to Planned Parenthood have resulted in legal battles, which have favored Planned Parenthood (Sullivan, The Hill, 8/3).