Advocates for defunding Planned Parenthood at the federal level have headed home for the August congressional recess empty-handed. But the videos that raised questions about fetal tissue transactions have galvanized state lawmakers and governors as well.
New Hampshire’s Republican-led Executive Council voted along party lines Wednesday against $639,000 in state funding for Planned Parenthood. New Hampshire was well positioned to act swiftly, as the only state with such an elected council that works with the governor to approve large state contracts.
Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Robert Bentley of Alabama announced this week their intent to end state Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, though past efforts along those lines, in Indiana for example, have not held up against court challenges.
Alabama legislators also are considering a bill making it a felony offense to sell aborted fetuses or fetus parts, even though a federal law is already in place.
Most other legislatures are not in session, but when they start up again, the ripple effects could be widespread.
It’s likely “we’ll see more attacks at the state level on family planning funding,” says Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy group. Some politicians “will use this whole issue as a way to further scrutinize abortion providers, and Planned Parenthood specifically.”
The states have long been a stage for political battles over abortion and family planning. In the 1970s and then the 1990s, states saw a wave of efforts to restrict funds for family planning, often targeted specifically at Planned Parenthood. Since 2011, when more legislatures and gubernatorial offices came under Republican control, there’s been another surge.
Planned Parenthood offers a range of preventive health-care services, including contraception and screenings for disease. Abortions make up a small percentage of the group’s services for women.
The videos that have spurred the recent defunding attempts were secretly recorded by antiabortion activists. In them, Planned Parenthood officials discuss providing fetal tissue to medical researchers. Opponents say the group is illegally selling the tissue for profit – a charge the group denies. To date five videos, which contain graphic images, have been released by the Center for Medical Progress, an antiabortion group.
“Only half the videos have come out thus far, and the fact that this story still has the level of oxygen it does three weeks later is quite encouraging,” says Mallory Quigley, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion organization in Washington.
Planned Parenthood officials say the videos are part of a politically motivated smear campaign and don’t accurately represent the group’s practices. But governors and other officials have launched investigations into whether Planned Parenthood clinics are following regulations in 13 states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Three of the investigations have concluded. Indiana and Massachusetts indicated no violations. “Although donation of fetal tissue is permissible under state and federal law, PPLM [Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts] does not have a tissue donation program,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
Florida’s investigation found that one clinic was not following its procedures for labeling and dating the disposal of fetal remains. Three clinics were cited for performing second-trimester abortions. A Florida spokesperson for Planned Parenthood affiliates disputed that report, saying it was based on a new interpretation of how to measure trimesters that is inconsistent with accepted medical standards and contradicts other inspections performed as recently as two weeks ago.
In New Hampshire, state funding for Planned Parenthood has been like a yo-yo. It was cut in 2011 by a Republican-led Executive Council. Then it was restored in January 2014 with member Chris Sununu, a Republican in favor of abortion rights, voting for the contract. This time around, the scrutiny of the national Planned Parenthood organization prompted him to vote the contract down.
“We asked the governor to do an investigation,” Mr. Sununu told the Monitor in a phone interview. “If any other organization had this kind of legal scrutiny hanging over their heads ... there’s no way we’d do business with them,” he said.
One reason Sununu supported the Planned Parenthood contract in the past, he says, is that in his district there are no other providers for some women’s health-care services. But given the questions about the organization, he says, “I am happy to take the lead to find other providers in the district to apply for these funds and provide these services.... There should never be a monopoly.... These services are critical.”
There’s also speculation that Sununu may run for governor and that this was an opportunity to be on the right side of an issue among conservative voters. “I don’t know that that’s what drove him, but ... you can’t ignore the fact that this has become a very important issue for Republicans nationally,” says Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
Even when defunded by the state, New Hampshire’s Planned Parenthood clinics have been able to get money directly from the federal government, Sununu says.
But Planned Parenthood advocates say the state cuts will have adverse impacts. "Without these funds, PPNNE [Planned Parenthood of Northern New England] will be forced to cut direct program costs, which could mean shortening health center hours, eliminating staff positions, and reducing patient access to affordable care," Jennifer Frizzell, vice president for public policy at PPNNE, said in a statement.
Advocates for defunding Planned Parenthood usually argue that other health-care providers can serve women’s needs. But after 2011, when Texas cut its family planning budget by about two-thirds overall and cut off Planned Parenthood from state funds, some regions such as the Rio Grande Valley lost more than a quarter of their family planning clinics, leaving many low-income women unable to access clinics or unable to afford birth control and preventive medical care, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.