U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the oversight subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, recently opened an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood has used federal money to fund abortions in violation of the 1976 Hyde Amendment.
Planned Parenthood is regularly audited to ensure compliance with the Hyde Amendment, and these audits have never turned up any evidence of wrongdoing -- but that's not enough for conservative legislators who want to shut the organization down entirely.
Planned Parenthood responded publicly to Stearns this week, accusing him of putting politics before lifesaving health care by launching what appears to be a politically motivated investigation and demanding an onerous amount of records.
Necessary or Needless Audits?
The amount of records Stearns has demanded is indeed onerous: internal audits from 1998 to 2010 and state audits for the past 20 years; information on any improper billing to the federal Medicaid health care program for poor people; and statements of Planned Parenthood's policies for keeping federal dollars separate from money that funds abortions and for reporting cases of statutory rape, sexual abuse and sex trafficking, among a slew of other documents.
Planned Parenthood is complying with the investigation and providing the requested documents. The initial deadline was Sept. 29, but Stearns said on Thursday that it had been extended to Oct. 13.
Once all the documents are in, Stearns and his committee will review them -- and they will find no evidence of wrongdoing. But then they will push forward, undeterred, with their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood anyway.
The so-called debate over federal funding to Planned Parenthood has become a complete farce. Any pretense of it being about legitimate budgetary concerns is gone. The conservatives lost that battle in April, but instead of stepping back and planning to fight again over, say, next year's budget, they are now trying to smear Planned Parenthood with unsubstantiated allegations and outright lies.
Kyl Publicized A Falsehood
Back in April, in response to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl's, R-Ari., absurd allegation that abortion constituted well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does, Planned Parenthood released a graph showing exactly where its resources go -- and abortion services account for only 3 percent of its work.
Here are the top three services Planned Parenthood actually provides: birth control (35 percent), testing for sexually transmitted illnesses (35 percent) and cancer screening and prevention (16 percent). The remainder is general women's health services, which could mean anything from treating urinary tract infections to providing prenatal care for women who are not having abortions.
What that means, courtesy of Ezra Klein of The Washington Post: If Planned Parenthood loses funding, what will mainly happen is that cancer screenings and contraception and STD testing will become less available to poorer people. Folks with more money, of course, have many other ways to receive all these services, and tend to get them elsewhere already.
So if Stearns pushes on with his unwarranted investigation and finds some way to get Congress to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, he will actually be contributing to an increase in the number of unintended pregnancies in the United States, and thus the number of abortions.
Through its birth-control and family-planning services, Planned Parenthood prevents far more unwanted pregnancies than it aborts. The sum total of its efforts actually reduces the number of abortions that would be performed if women didn't have access to affordable birth control. That's not ideology -- it is a statistical fact.
1973 Landmark Decision
Does Planned Parenthood provide abortions? Yes, it does. In case conservatives have forgotten, that is legal under this 1973 Supreme Court ruling called Roe v. Wade. Look it up -- it's kind of a big deal.
Years of government audits show that Planned Parenthood has always complied with the Hyde Amendment. The federal funding it receives does not go toward abortions; it goes toward its other services, many of which actively prevent abortions.
But Stearns is still suspicious. Although Planned Parenthood is barred from using federal funds to perform abortions, these funds are fungible and allow the group to use funds from other sources ostensibly for abortions, he said in a statement. Also, with a national debt exceeding $14 trillion, funding of Planned Parenthood should be evaluated with other expenditures to reduce the deficit.
Ah, there's the truth.
This investigation isn't about enforcing the Hyde Amendment -- there is no evidence, nor has there ever been any evidence, that Planned Parenthood is misusing federal funds.
What it is actually about is conservatives' opposition to Planned Parenthood receiving those federal funds in the first place -- a battle the conservatives lost in April. And now Stearns is taking out his frustration on Planned Parenthood by lobbing malicious, unsubstantiated allegations, just like an elementary school bully who's angry that he lost a game.