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

By Megan Cassella

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. congressional Republicans on Tuesday challenged Planned Parenthood's eligibility for federal funds, while the health organization's president said defunding it would restrict women's access to care and disproportionately hurt low-income patients.

A series of videos that purport to show that Planned Parenthood improperly sells fetal tissue to researchers for profit has reignited anti-abortion voters' fervor during a turbulent Republican presidential primary campaign.

At a five-hour House committee hearing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards appeared alone to respond to hostile questioning from Republicans, some of whom have vowed to shut down the U.S. government if federal support for the organization is not cut off.

"As far as I can tell ... this is an organization that doesn't need federal subsidy," House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said at the start.

Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said Planned Parenthood's $127 million in profit last year showed the organization could survive without federal funds. He accused the group of lavishly spending on travel, hosting "blowout parties" and paying "exorbitant salaries."

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds, largely in Medicaid reimbursements.

"We don’t make any profit off federal money," Richards responded, adding that "outrageous allegations" against Planned Parenthood were "offensive and categorically untrue."

She said Planned Parenthood did not use federal funds for abortions, which comprise 3 percent of its services, or for fetal tissue donations, which are done by 1 percent of the clinics. Planned Parenthood clinic services include cancer screenings, family planning, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Republicans favor shifting Planned Parenthood's federal funds to community clinics, and they grilled Richards on why doing so would restrict access to care.


Parenthood CEO grilled as shutdown clock ticks

"You can't say that Planned Parenthood is like the only place" for low-income families to go, said Representative Mia Love, a Utah Republican.

"But it's obviously a place that 2.7 million patients choose to come to every year," Richards responded, adding that the move would particularly hurt low-income, uninsured and rural patients.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire for months over videos that an anti-abortion group produced and posted online.

Democrats had asked that David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind the videos, attend the hearing as well, but Republican leaders did not invite him.

On the panel, Democrats defended the group and questioned Republicans' motives.

"What is Congress doing here?" asked Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont. "We're having an argument that's never going to end about abortion, but we're proposing to proceed in a way that will have collateral consequences that compromises ... women's health."

(Reporting by Megan Cassella; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Von Ahn)