John Boehner stepped down from his position as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in late September, in part because conservative hardliners threatened a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood was not defunded. It is the latest attack, by the GOP, on that public healthcare organization, and the latest example of politicians using socially disparaged groups as pawns in a struggle for power over the American political landscape.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive sex education and healthcare to men, women and young people. It grew out of the The American Birth Control League, which was founded in 1921 by Margaret Sanger. In 1942, it changed its name to Planned Parenthood. Since then, the organization has gone on to service over 4.5 million people a year. Last year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million from the government — a point of contention among many Republicans.
On September 29, congressional Republicans attempted to defund federal funding for Planned Parenthood — an agenda the GOP has long sought to make law. Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz opened the meeting by saying “As far as I can tell… this is an organization that doesn’t need government subsidy.” Chaffetz argued that Planned Parenthood’s $127 millions dollars in profit did not reflect an organization that met criteria for federal funding. Chaffetz also made accusations of misuse of funds by the organization in form of parties and inflated salaries.
The lone defendant of Planned Parenthood was President Cecile Richards. After withstanding a barrage of questioning from Republicans, Richards argued that defunding Planned Parenthood would significantly affect women and low-income patients’ access to health care. As reported by Reuters, Richards contended that Planned Parenthood does not make profit off of federal money. She also called the allegations “outrageous,” “offensive and categorically untrue.” Richards went on to say that federal funds were not used to perform abortions or fetal tissue donations. Both comprise only 3% of the organization’s services and are only done at 1% of its clinics. Republicans would like to shift funding from Planned Parenthood to community clinics which they argue can provide the same services.
A faction of Republicans, in collaboration with pro-life advocacy groups, have made a series of attacks on Planned Parenthood. After the release of the first of two videos by anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress, Senator Ted Cruz of Kentucky said he would “introduce an amendment to pending Senate legislation to immediately strip every dollar of Planned Parenthood funding.” Senator Cruz also called for an official investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Roger Evans, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, submitted a letter on July 20 to the committee, in which he details an attempt to entrap a Planned Parenthood worker. In the letter, he claims that three years ago, head of The Center for Medical Progress David Daleiden, created a fake company – Biomax Procurement Services. Evans says Daleiden then set up exhibits at the Planned Parenthood national conference and even offered an associate of Planned Parenthood exorbitant amounts of money for fetal material, presumably to entrap them. It is worth pointing out that The Center for Medical Progress, the engine behind the campaign against Planned Parenthood receiving government funding and the group that also alleges fraudulent profiteering, has had tax-exempt status since 2003, as reported by the Huffington Post.
Richards maintains that the allegations are unfounded and politically motivated. She tweeted “GOP leaders, including most of the ’16 field, are tripping over themselves to attack PP because they think that’s how to win elections.” She also made clear that during abortion the principal concern is the safety and health of the mother.
Before The House Energy and Commerce Committee addressed the claims of Planned Parenthood’s illegal sales of fetal organ tissue, she said: “I want to be really clear: The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true. Our donation programs — like any other high-quality health care providers — follow all laws and ethical guidelines.”
Heidi Hess, the Campaign Manager for CREDO, the largest corporate sponsor of Planned Parenthood called for help from the Democratic party: “Democrats have to push back now. They need to go on the record in support of Planned Parenthood’s work and speak out to discredit these orchestrated attacks. And they must block any attempts to undermine or defund Planned Parenthood in Congress.” Without strong political backing, the future of Planned Parenthood is uncertain.
Putting aside political affiliation and moral belief, Planned Parenthood is a public health organization that services millions of people a year. Many of them are socially and financially vulnerable. There has been no proof of foul play on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Although the videos raise questions around the practices and ethics of the use of fetal tissue, despite their questionable authenticity, they do not diminish the substantial number of low income women Planned Parenthood services annually. There may be a need for more transparency regarding Planned Parenthood’s disposal of fetal tissue for scientific means, and how the organization gains income in general, but those items should be dealt with independently of its actual services to women, especially those without healthcare.