The States, the Feds, and Planned Parenthood

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August 3, 2015; Washington Post

Pressure continues to mount on Planned Parenthood in response to Center for Medical Progress’ undercover videos. Monday saw the organization find support on the national level, but lose funding in Louisiana.

The New York Times reported on the Senate Republican leadership’s failed attempt to bring up a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood. The bill, drafted at the behest of majority leader Mitch McConnell and cosponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, would have eliminated federal funds for the organization. The Senate vote to take up the measure went 53 to 46, shy of the 60 needed to begin debate. (Those 53 “yea” votes comprised two Democrats as well as most of the Senate’s Republicans.) For opponents of Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose, losing this vote is only a prelude to what will be an ongoing struggle. Republican lawmakers see Planned Parenthood as the focal point for a reenergized effort to severely limit, if not fully curtail, access to abortion.

While Senate Republican leadership has shied away from tying Planned Parenthood funding to broader budget bills for fear a government shutdown would result, they are being pressured by others in their party who see pushing President Obama to risk a shutdown as a winning strategy. According to the Washington Post, “The possibility of a shutdown received new attention last week after a group of 18 House Republicans told party leaders that they ‘cannot and will not support any funding resolution…that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood.’” In a CNN interview Sunday, Senator Paul said, “If President Obama wants to shut down government because he doesn’t get funds for Planned Parenthood, that would be President Obama’s determination to shut down government.” And Senator Ted Cruz said on Monday, “I think that is an excellent question for you to ask every Democrat, if they are willing to try to shut down the government in order to force continued taxpayer funding from an organization that has now been caught on film apparently admitting to multiple felonies.”

While the Senate was unsuccessfully considering the defunding proposal, Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal took action and canceled Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid contract with his state. “Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life,” the governor said in a statement announcing the move. “It has become clear that this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state.”

Jindal believes that there are other organizations and clinics that can provide women’s health services “without the baggage that Planned Parenthood brings.” While other states have begun investigations of Planned Parenthood’s actions, this marks the first to find fault and impose sanctions on the organization. Two other states, Indiana and Massachusetts, closed their investigations after finding PP’s actions to be proper.

While opposition to the organization because of its ties to abortion fuels the debate over Planned Parenthood’s future, this represents only a fraction of the services it provides to millions of patients annually. The Washington Post summed up the real impact of defunding the organization:

“No federal money is used by Planned Parenthood to provide abortions except in some rare exceptions. So cutting off government funds, mostly through Medicaid and grants, would only hurt the thousands of people, most of them low-income women, who each day depend upon Planned Parenthood for birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and other health services. Given that many of the clinics are in medically underserved areas, it’s a myth, as Republicans claim, that other providers can fill the gap. Shutting down clinics would make it harder for many women to obtain birth control—and the last thing either side of the abortion debate should want is an increase in unwanted pregnancies that result in more abortions.”

—Marty Levine