Michigan leader defends Planned Parenthood

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A top official of Planned Parenthood in Michigan is firing back at congressional critics seeking to gut federal funding for the embattled organization, $8.5 million of which goes to Planned Parenthood clinics in Michigan annually.

“People like to distill us down into sound bites that are politically palatable, and yet we are one of the most complicated organizations that you’re going to find,” said Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.

Some Republicans threatened to shut down the government this month unless payments to Planned Parenthood were eliminated, although an agreement last week postponed the threat of a shutdown to Dec. 11. Conservative leaders say they plan to revive the issue in the coming weeks.

This latest funding controversy arose after an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, released a series of controversial videos that it says proves Planned Parenthood is selling the organs of fetuses for profit in violation of federal law.

Planned Parenthood has said its participation in tissue and organ donation programs are done with full consent from patients in accordance with relevant ethical and legal standards. It is legal to donate the tissue.

Three House congressional committees have held separate hearings over the videos, and the Judiciary panel has scheduled another hearing Thursday.

While any cuts would affect Michigan, including the 71,000 patients who use Planned Parenthood annually, the state is not involved in the latest source of controversy.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan do not have fetal tissue donation programs, and state regulators said this week that a review of Planned Parenthood’s operations in the state found “no evidence of illegal practices occurring.”

The state Departments of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and Health & Human Services said in a joint statement that both agencies are “committed to ensuring all state and federal laws regarding the handling of human remains are followed, and we believe the protocols and processes in place here in Michigan will allow us to respond, investigate and take appropriate action, if necessary.”

Right to Life of Michigan argues for redirecting government money from Planned Parenthood to other health organizations that don’t perform abortions, said Genevieve Marnon, a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group.

“Planned Parenthood is not the only game in town,” said Marnon, noting the dozens of other family planning clinics located statewide.

“The idea that if we don’t get the federal dollars, women’s health is going to suffer is not true.”

But Carpentier said many areas of the state don’t have the capacity to absorb Planned Parenthood’s caseload. For instance, 60 percent of the roughly 80,000 patients receiving publicly supported reproductive health services in Michigan used a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2014, according to state data.

Nationally, an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 5 percent and 25 percent of the 2.6 million clients served by Planned Parenthood would face reduced access to care, particularly in areas without access to other clinics or practitioners serving low-income communities.

“What Planned Parenthood strives to do is to play a really strong role in trying to be where there isn’t already care, because it’s our goal to be the provider under the cracks that people fall through,” Carpentier said.

Carpentier said Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan have “never” provided fetal organs or intact fetal tissue in the way described in the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress.

In the late 1990s, her affiliate did work directly with a major academic research institution to provide fetal stem cells for a time-limited project, Carpentier said. Patients’ consent was obtained as required, she said, and “there was no compensation of any sort,” even for reimbursement of expenses, which is legally permitted.

“There were researchers on site. They gathered the tissue, and prepared it the way that they needed to, and took it with them. We didn’t have any extraordinary expenses,” she said.

Carpentier would not identify the academic institution. “The last thing that we would want is for our good, academic partners around the state to feel like they can’t work with Planned Parenthood because they’re going to get caught up in the crap that is our political grandstanding,” she said.

The bulk of government dollars that flow to Planned Parenthood in Michigan reimburses the organization for health care services provided to Medicaid patients and for reproductive health services funded by the federal Title X National Family Planning Program.

About 58 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue for its combined $19.8 million budget in Michigan comes from non-government sources – commercial insurance reimbursements, patient payments, fundraisers and private donations, according to the organization.

Carpentier said a common misconception is that Planned Parenthood receives a huge subsidy from the government for the organization to spend as it likes. But longstanding law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions.

“Every dollar we get is reimbursement for services rendered,” Carpentier said. “There’s just no real way to ‘funge’ money around the way that (our critics) suggest. We are highly, highly scrutinized.”

She also objected to criticism from congressional Republicans that Planned Parenthood executives’ salaries are too high for a nonprofit, mission-driven organization.

“If this was an organization that was primarily headed up by men, and served men, we would not be having this discussion,” Carpentier said.

Marnon of Right to Life of Michigan said that while abortion services are billed differently than others, she objects to taxpayer dollars supporting the staff and infrastructure of an organization that offers abortion.

“If Planned Parenthood wanted to become a legitimate healthcare center that treats reproductive health and quit doing abortions, no one would be arguing over federal funding,” she said.

The chair of the House Oversight panel, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, whose committee has been investigating Planned Parenthood for more than two months, told CNN last week he has no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated any laws.

Democrats on the Oversight panel, including Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, sent a letter Tuesday to Chaffetz demanding, should he continue the investigation, that he compel David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind the videos, to also appear before the committee.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, testified before the panel for nearly five hours last week. “Continuing to shield Mr. Daleiden and his organization from accountability creates the unfortunate impression that the committee is more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood than in an even-handed investigation of potential violations of the law,” said the letter, signed by Lawrence and 16 other members.

Chaffetz has said he saw no reason to bring Daleiden in to testify until the committee could view all his footage, which has not been provided; however, a federal judge this week ordered the release of the complete footage and cleared Daleiden’s group to comply with a subpoena for the videos issued by the committee.


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