Senate to vote on Planned Parenthood funding: What's at stake?

Legislation to de-fund the family planning group has been filed and could be voted on Monday, following the release of controversial videos.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
In this July 29, 2015, photo, Sen. Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington to discuss Planned Parenthood.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday afternoon on a bill to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood, amid an uproar following the release by an anti-abortion group of controversial, secretly-recorded videos that claim to show officials from the family-planning group discussing the illegal sale of fetal organs. Planned Parenthood disputes the group's claims and says that the video's subjects were talking about legal donation of fetal tissue for medical purposes.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa, and would shift the federal funding given to Planned Parenthood to other community health centers; however, no cuts to overall funding levels for women’s health would be made.

Currently Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million of its $1.3 billion budget from federal funding annually. However, defunding the organization might be more difficult than its critics, including US senators and presidential candidates Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, might hope.

Currently, Planned Parenthood is funded in part by Medicaid and in part by Title X family planning. While Congress has control over Title X funding, it doesn’t not have as much control over Medicaid, Politico reports.

“The continued disregard and disrespect for human life at Planned Parenthood, a partially taxpayer-funded organization, is shocking and appalling,” Sen. Paul told The Washington Times in July. 

Between June 2013 and June 2014, abortions made up three percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, about 327,000 annually. However, current laws prohibit some federal funding for use in abortions, except in the case of rape, incest, or endangerment to the mother.

It is unclear which way the vote will swing this afternoon. In order for the legislation to pass the Senate, it will need 60 votes; currently there are 54 Republicans in the Senate as well as some Democrats opposed to abortion, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

At the same time, legislation has been drafted in the House that would pause Planned Parenthood funding for one year, until further research can be done to see how Planned Parenthood conducts business. The bill – known as the ‘‘Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015” – was re-introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R) of Tenn. in July, and would withhold any Title X grants to the organization.

While it is uncertain whether or not the Senate will pass Senator Ernst’s bill today, the House has already begun their August recess and thus will not be able to take up any new legislation until they return in September. And according to official remarks from White House press secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama “would not be supportive of such congressional action” to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

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