Federal, state officials keep heat on PPFA
The actions -- in this case by the U.S. House of Representatives and the state of Texas -- have come in response to revelations in undercover videos that show various Planned Parenthood officials in different locations discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The 10 videos released since mid-July include acknowledgements by Planned Parenthood employees of their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use. The videos also display evidence of the dissection of live babies outside the womb to remove organs
Among the government steps taken Oct. 19-23 regarding the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates:
-- The U.S. House of Representatives again passed legislation to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood, this time in an Oct. 23 vote on what is known as a reconciliation bill designed to gain easier approval in the Senate.
-- Speaker of the House John Boehner named eight Republican members on the same date to a special panel to investigate PPFA.
-- The Texas government informed Planned Parenthood Oct. 19 of its removal from the state's Medicaid program, partially citing evidence provided in the undercover videos.
-- Texas health officials served subpoenas at Planned Parenthood clinics in the state Oct. 22, requesting patient and employee records.
Supporters of defunding PPFA applauded the actions.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), expressed his gratitude "that the video evidence of Planned Parenthood's human piracy has stirred legislative and political action."
"There is a very long way to go, but statewide defunding and serious congressional investigations are steps in the right direction," Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. "I pray that the long-term effect of these videos is a cultural awakening to the value and personhood of all human life."
The reconciliation process in Congress enables the Senate to pass a budget-related measure without the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The House approved another bill to defund PPFA in September by a 241-187 vote, but the legislation was dead on arrival in the Senate because of the need for a super majority. In August, the Senate fell short on a defunding bill despite a 53-46 majority, because it failed to gain the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, as it is known.
Though the House reconciliation bill is designed to require only 51 votes in the Senate, its fate in the upper chamber is uncertain. For one thing, three conservative, pro-life Republican members -- Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida -- have announced they will oppose the measure because it only partially repeals the health-care reform law of 2010. They are calling for full repeal of the controversial measure. Without their votes, the GOP majority has only 51 left, and a few of the remaining members are unlikely to support the bill.
If the legislation reaches President Obama, he most certainly will veto it.
The reconciliation proposal reportedly would strip PPFA of about $400 million of its nearly $530 million annual take in government grants, contracts and reimbursements. The bill would reallocate funds taken from Planned Parenthood to approved community health centers.
Pro-life advocates hailed the House vote and urged the Senate to follow course.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, thanked the House "for redirecting taxpayer money away from an abortion giant that engages in gruesome and unethical practices."
"For our friends in the Senate who think the House bill is not strong enough, we encourage them to try and make the measure even better," he said in a written statement. "The House leadership has said they will accept any improvements the Senate makes to the bill that [cut] much of Planned Parenthood's funding and removes the heart of Obamacare."
The ERLC's Moore and 37 other pro-life leaders wrote congressional leaders Oct. 5 to encourage them to use the reconciliation process in an attempt to defund PPFA.
The eight GOP representatives selected by Boehner for the panel to investigate PPFA and trafficking in fetal parts consist of four women -- Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black of Tennessee, Vicki Hartzler of Missouri and Mia Love of Utah -- and four men -- Reps. Larry Bucshon of Indiana, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Andy Harris of Maryland and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. Blackburn will chair the panel, which will operate under the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Texas terminated Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program because state health officials determined its affiliates "are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner," according to a letter from Stuart Bowen, inspector general of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).
The reasons cited by Bowen are:
-- Undercover videos revealed PPFA is willing to change the "timing or method of an abortion" in obtaining fetal tissue, thereby violating federal law and Medicaid policy.
-- Clinics failed to abide by health and safety standards for handling fetal tissue.
-- Evidence exists of fraud committed by Planned Parenthood clinics, including illegal billing.
Funds no longer going to PPFA affiliates are now available to health-care providers in the state.
"Texas is right to recognize that taxpayer money should go to fund local community health centers, not to subsidize a scandal-ridden, billion-dollar abortion business," said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.
Texas joins five states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Utah -- that have eliminated funds for Planned Parenthood since the video releases by the Center for Medical Progress began. Planned Parenthood is expected to challenge Texas in court, as it has others states that have defunded its affiliates.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, told Fox News he hopes "for a legal challenge here, because I want to get these Planned Parenthood officials under oath and get them to swear about the practices that they were conducting in the state of Texas."
Officials with the Texas HHSC appeared with subpoenas at five Planned Parenthood centers Oct. 22, according to The Houston Chronicle. They went to two clinics in Houston and one each in Brownsville, Dallas and San Antonio.
PPFA announced Oct. 13 its centers no longer would accept federal reimbursement for expenses accrued in tissue donations from aborted babies, but its critics said the action served as an admission of guilt and should not halt the effort to defund the organization.
PPFA and its affiliates received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements, according to its latest financial report (2013-14). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed more than 327,000 abortions during 2013, making it the largest abortion provider in the country.