Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told a congressional hearing Tuesday that claims that the group was selling fetal tissue for profit, making the health care provider a political target of both Republican lawmakers and the party’s presidential hopefuls, were "offensive and categorically untrue."
Richards was under fire from the GOP-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from the outset, defending the group’s work in face of embarrassing undercover videos prepared by abortion opponents that show employees negotiating in a matter-of-fact manner over fetal tissue donations.
She called the videos “deceptively edited” and said her organization’s involvement with fetal tissue research complies with federal and state statutes, and that it accepts compensation below costs.
“Currently less than 1 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are facilitating the donation of tissue for fetal tissue research,” Richards said. “In those health centers, it’s something that many of our patients want to do and regularly request.”
You can say all you want, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on the disputed Planned Parenthood videos
Whether the videos were manipulated is under investigation, but Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told Richards, “You can say all you want, but a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Long a target of conservatives, the issue has caught Planned Parenthood in a political whirlwind. Republicans in Congress want to cut off its federal support, even threatening to hold the federal budget hostage to their demands. That issue, among others, led to the stunning decision last week by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has struggled with the right wing of his party, to resign at the end of October.
It has also triggered fireworks on the campaign trail, as several of the GOP’s 2016 presidential contenders have used the controversy to score political points.
The committee chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, questioned Planned Parenthood’s need for any federal funds when the organization has a $1.3 billion annual revenue.
“As best I can tell this is an organization that doesn't need federal subsidy,” Chaffetz said, noting that 41 percent of its revenue comes from the government.
Richards replied that the federal funds help the group provide a variety of health services to women, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
She said that Medicaid, a federal-state program that helps low income people and families pay for health care, reimburses Planned Parenthood for its services. Moreover, she said that no federal funds are used to pay for abortions, except in certain cases such as rape and incest, according to federal law.
Several Republicans on the panel said they would prefer to see the federal money aiding Planned Parenthood be distributed among the 13,000 federally approved health centers.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that cutting off federal aid to Planned Parenthood would increase federal Medicaid spending by $650 million until 2025 and could reduce access to health care for 25 percent of Planned Parenthood’s 2.7 million yearly patients.
Jordan asked Richards why she had previously apologized when the first videos surfaced if she denies their credibility.
The core issue is the Republican members of Congress almost universally oppose women’s right to choose.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
“In my opinion it was inappropriate to have a clinical discussion in a non-clinical setting, non-confidential area,” Richards said of a scene in the video. “It did not reflect the compassionate care that we provide.”
Committee Democrats defended Richards and the organization.
“We need to recognize this fight for what it is,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “The core issue is the Republican members of Congress almost universally oppose women’s right to choose”
Maloney also staunchly opposed Chaffetz’s questions about Richards’ salary as an “inappropriate and discriminatory” attack on successful women. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., apologized for the rough treatment she had thus received from Republicans, including the “disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”
“I’ve seen many women treated tougher than you,” Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., told Richards.
Grace Toohey: 202-383-6025, @Grace_2e