House GOP, Democrats spar on Planned Parenthood

Melissa Nann Burke Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — House Republicans and the head of Planned Parenthood faced off Tuesday as the group’s federal funding was questioned because of “exorbitant” spending on travel, lavish “blowout” parties and celebrity guests.

Utah U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, said Planned Parenthood spent more than $5 million on travel in 2013, or $14,000 a day, including on first-class flights and chartered aircraft.

Planned Parenthood supports 59 affiliates operating 667 clinics across the country. In 2013, it reported $1.3 billion in revenue, of which 41 percent or $574 million came from government health services grants and reimbursements.

“That’s a lot. That’s money that isn’t going to women’s health care,” Chaffetz said. “What I don’t want to become numb to is wasting taxpayer dollars.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, defended the legality her organization’s work and denounced the “great deal of misinformation” about Planned Parenthood that prompted recent Republican calls to eliminate funding for the group.

“This is just the most recent in a long line of discredited attacks. ... The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue,” Richards said.

“These acts against women and health care providers don’t reflect American values or the rule of law, and I hope this committee will condemn them,” she added.

It was Richards’ first appearance on Capitol Hill since the release of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program by the Center for Medical Progress in California. The anti-abortion group says the videos show Planned Parenthood is selling the organs of aborted fetuses for profit in violation of federal law.

It is legal to donate the tissue.

At the hearing, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, addressed the accuracy of the videos, highlighting an independent report commissioned by Planned Parenthood in which he said the analysis “did not reveal widespread evidence of ‘substantive video manipulation’ and it ‘shows no evidence of audio manipulation.’”

“I just want that stated for the record, Mr. Chairman, because we have a lot of controversy over the videos,” Walberg said.

Richards responded by noting the Center for Medical Progress hasn’t released all the original source footage, although Planned Parenthood has requested it.

During the hearing, Democrats pushed back against Republican references to the federal “subsidy” for Planned Parenthood, saying the bulk of funding for Planned Parenthood ($390 million) comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for preventive health services to the poor such as breast exams and cancer screenings.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, also slammed references to the use of federal funds for abortion – which is not permitted – “as if, if you keep saying it, in some way it will become factual.”

“Do your research before you ask your exhausting, sometimes insulting questions. We cannot use federal dollars for abortion,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also said the services offered by Planned Parenthood clinics could not be easily replaced by federally funded community health centers, citing research by Sara Rosenbaum, founding chair of the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services.

Richards said 78 percent of its patients live at 150 percent of the poverty level or below.

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