Congress, Planned Parenthood square off over videos, funding

Local Congressman Jim Jordan leads heated questioning of Planned Parenthood president.

In Planned Parenthood’s first appearance before Congress since those videos emerged this summer, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee argued that the group needs no taxpayer financing. They cited Planned Parenthood tax documents showing it spends millions on political activities, travel and exorbitant salaries.

During the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, grilled Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, repeatedly on why she apologized for the video.

“Which statements where you apologizing for?” he asked.

Richards told the lawmakers that her group has fallen victim to a “smear campaign” based on videos in which its officials coolly describe how they sometimes harvest tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research.

Richards said she thought that the doctor involved in the tape used “bad judgment” to “have a clinical discussion in a nonclinical setting.”

“You said ‘I apologize for the statements,’” Jordan said. “I would like to know and the American people would like to know which statements in the video were you apologizing for? Were you apologizing for statements that are untrue? Because you normally don’t do that in life. If something is untrue and false, you don’t apologize for that. You correct the record.”

Richards said at the time the video was released, the organization had had no time to evaluate the video. “I was reflecting on that video, not any particular statement,” she said. “it did not reflect the compassionate care that we provide at Planned Parenthood.”

Jordan said those opposed to federal funding for the organization “simply want to shift the money or an organization caught doing what they were caught doing and give it to community health centers.”

“We want to take the money from the guys doing bad things and give it to the ones who aren’t,” he said.

Firing back, Richards said taxpayer money is used to provide sexual disease testing, contraceptives and other health care for women and said none of it is used for political activity. And she said videos released this summer showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing their provision of fetal tissue to medical researchers have prompted increased threats against clinics.

Videos at center of debate

The recordings have pumped Planned Parenthood and the abortions some of its nearly 700 clinics provide into an electric political issue, with many GOP presidential candidates frequently lambasting the group. Conservatives’ demands that Congress cut its federal payments — for which Republicans lack the votes to succeed — contributed to the GOP unrest that prompted House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., to announce his resignation last week.

Planned Parenthood gets around a third of its $1.3 billion yearly budget from federal payments, mostly reimbursements for treating low-income Medicaid patients. By law, nearly no federal funds can be used for abortion. The group provides contraception, sexual disease testing and cancer screenings as well as abortions to 2.7 million patients annually in clinics from coast to coast.

Congress is on track to approve legislation this week preventing an imminent federal shutdown and continuing federal payments to Planned Parenthood. But House committees began working Tuesday on separate legislation that would cut most of the organization’s federal money and would be immune to Senate filibuster by Democrats. That means that measure has a strong chance of reaching President Barack Obama’s desk, where it would face certain veto.

Four congressional committees are already investigating Planned Parenthood. Boehner has said he will also appoint an additional, special committee to probe the group.

Richards said just 1 percent of its clinics retrieve fetal tissue when abortion patients request it. She said she is “proud” of the work, which is used to research cures and treatments for diseases, but called it a “minuscule” part of the services Planned Parenthood provides.

Gearing up for a campaign year in which both parties will vie for female voters, Democrats say the GOP is out to restrict abortions and women’s health.

“Do you want to align yourself with radical extremists who manipulate the facts?” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, asked.

Tuesday’s hearing occurred in a crowded but orderly hearing room dotted by Planned Parenthood supporters in pink T-shirts. Also seated were abortion opponents who initially wore masking tape over their mouths bearing the word “Life,” which they removed when asked by police.

Alan Fram of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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