During a heated Congressional hearing Tuesday looking into federal funding of Planned Parenthood, President Cecile Richards defended her organization from repeated and sharp attacks from incensed Republicans. The hearing comes just days before a potential federal government shutdown that conservative Republicans threatened in Congress over funds given to the healthcare provider through Medicaid reimbursements.
As representatives took their turns questioning Richards, the hearing developed two major themes. Republicans asked quick questions of Richards and frequently interrupted her as she began to answer, citing time constraints for their interruptions. Democrats went on long defenses of Planned Parenthood and the services performed by the healthcare provider and frequently asked rhetorical questions while taking aim at their Republican colleagues.
"The federal funding Planned Parenthood receives allows our doctors and clinicians...to provide birth control, cancer screenings and cancer [detection]," Richards said while under questioning from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who accused Republicans of looking to take away women's right to make their own healthcare decisions. “No federal funds pay for abortion services at Planned Parenthood…except under the very limited circumstances provided by law."
The deadline for Congress to come to an agreement on funding for the federal government is Oct. 1, after which all government employees other than the most essential will be told to stay home. The potential shutdown comes just two years after another budget showdown over funding for President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act, closed the federal government. The likelihood that Congress will fall over a fiscal cliff is considered lower following Speaker of the House John Boehner's resignation announcement last week, but a final agreement has not been made. The Senate advanced a funding bill Monday ahead of schedule without Planned Parenthood provisions.
The controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood began in July when videos allegedly showing an employee of the organization casually selling the sale of aborted fetus organs over lunch. While Planned Parenthood has denied the veracity of the video, Republicans have seized upon the opportunity to question federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions. Anti-abortion representatives at the hearing repeatedly attacked Richards and her organization for providing pregnancy terminations and questioned whether or not federal funds were paying for the services. Richards categorically denied the charge.
"This is not a lump sum budget item… it is reimbursement, how many times do we need to say that?" said Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz , R-Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that held the hearing, accused Richards of using federal funding to lobby and advocate in Washington, a system that he implied guaranteed federal funding for the organization in exchange for political advocacy for Democrats carried out by Planned Parenthood. Other Republicans accused Planned Parenthood of using federal funding for overseas aide. Richards denied both of those charges.
Chaffetz, during one of the most heated exchanges of the hearing, displayed a graph showing an alleged drop in cancer screenings and a rise in abortions performed by Planned Parenthood. Richards objected to the source data graph and said that was not the situation at her organization. A Planned Parenthood lawyer then whispered in her ear that the source was the anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life.
Americans United for Life (AUL) spent $16,000 lobbying the federal government in the first half of 2015 on several anti-abortion bills introduced in the House and Senate. Chaffetz was a co-sponsor on one of those pieces of legislation and voted in favor of another. There have been three House bills mentioned in AUL lobby reports so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Planned Parenthood provides services to 2.7 million patients every year. The organization provides services including testing for sexually transmitted infections, cancer screenings, breast exams and abortions.