Republicans, Planned Parenthood square off in Congress

Planned Parenthood Federation president Cecile Richards testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Megan Cassella

WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans on Tuesday challenged Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for federal funds, while the health organization’s president said defunding it would restrict women’s access to care and disproportionately hurt low-income patients.

A series of videos that purports to show that Planned Parenthood improperly sells fetal tissue to researchers for profit has reignited anti-abortion voters’ fervor during a turbulent Republican presidential primary campaign.

At a House committee hearing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards appeared alone to respond to hostile questioning from Republicans, some of whom have vowed to shut down the U.S. government if federal support for the group is not cut off.

“As far as I can tell … this is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidy,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said at the start of the more than five-hour hearing.

Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, said Planned Parenthood’s $127 million in profit last year showed the organization could survive without federal funds. He also accused the group of lavishly spending on travel, hosting “blowout parties” and paying “exorbitant salaries.”

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds, largely in Medicaid reimbursements.

“We don’t make any profit off federal money,” Richards responded. She also said Planned Parenthood did not use those funds for abortions, which comprise 3 percent of its services, or for fetal tissue donations, which are done by 1 percent of the clinics.

Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said he believed Planned Parenthood could have served the same number of patients last year even without government funding.

Richards said shifting Planned Parenthood’s federal funds to community clinics, which Republicans favor, would restrict access to healthcare, particularly for low-income, uninsured and rural patients.

She said excess money went toward expanding services or was reinvested in the organization.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire for months over videos that an anti-abortion group produced and posted online.

Planned Parenthood has said the videos were distorted and that its clinics only accepted money as reimbursement for expenses from donating fetal tissue for scientific research.

Democrats on the panel defended the group and questioned Republicans’ motives.

“What is Congress doing here?” asked Vermont Democrat Peter Welch. “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.”


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