Planned Parenthood leader addresses video controversy before Congress

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday to defend its federal funding and criticize a series of videos released by anti-abortion activists. 

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

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday morning to make a case for its federal funding and address the undercover videos filmed and doctored by anti-abortion activists.

Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, opened the hearing with a personal story about his mother’s death from breast cancer and how his wife works with women who’ve had mastectomies. Holding back tears, he raised the hypothetical reallocation of Planned Parenthood money to cancer research instead.

“The question before us is does this organization really need federal subsidies?” he asked. “Does it need federal dollars? Every time we spend a federal dollar what we’re doing is we’re pulling money out of somebody’s pocket and giving it to somebody else.”

"Planned Parenthood is an organization with massive salaries ... [and] exorbitant travel expenses,” Mr. Chaffetz continued, suggesting that federal funding ends up going towards enormous salaries, entertainment reimbursements, and lobbying efforts.

Richards explained that the overwhelming majority of the federal funding, most of which is acquired from Medicaid, goes to health care services such as cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and birth control.

Last year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million from the government. This accounts for more than 40 percent of the national clinic’s total revenue.

"No federal funds pay for abortion services," she said in prepared remarks. "Except in the very limited circumstances permitted by law – when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered."

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, reminded his colleagues of the shady doings of David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress, which produced the hidden-camera videos that accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue.

"It is clear that they acted fraudulently and unethically – and perhaps illegally,” Richards said of the matter. "Yet it is Planned Parenthood, not Mr. Daleiden, that is currently subject to four separate congressional investigations."

The 10 videos released so far reveal Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing their donation of fetal tissue and organs to medical researchers.

Richards maintained that this practice comprises only a tiny fraction of Planned Parenthood’s work.

“Of the hundreds of health centers that are part of the Planned Parenthood network, currently just 1 percent facilitate their patients’ tissue donation in support of fetal tissue research,” she said.

There are currently four congressional committees and several state investigations that are probing into Planned Parenthood. The Missouri attorney general’s office released a statement Monday concluding that they’ve found no mishandling of fetal tissue.

Also on Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee met to advance a separate bill, "budget reconciliation," that would ban funding for the group without requiring the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass most bills in the Senate. Democrats say the plan will be undoubtedly vetoed by President Obama. The aggressive demands from tea party faction of House Republicans to block Planned Parenthood funding by any means indirectly led to the resignation of House speaker John Boehner. 

“For many American women, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider they will see this year,” Richards said in the hearing. “It is impossible for our patients to understand why Congress is once again threatening their ability to go to the health care provider of their choice.”

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