Congressional Grilling of Planned Parenthood’s CEO More Like Flailing

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can you hear me? / Stefan Powell

September 29, 2015; Washington Post

With so many declaring that they will personally spearhead investigations into Planned Parenthood’s alleged selling of fetal tissue, one would have thought that CEO Cecile Richards would have been answering questions about that yesterday as she appeared for a grilling in front of a House oversight committee, one of six panels she is scheduled to attend. Instead, there was a great deal of relatively confused posturing that played like an adolescent mob. The Washington Post described the hearing as five hours of “hectoring and finger-wagging” that wandered into such areas as Richards’s salary level and the organization’s travel expenses.

In the hearing announcement, the GOP announced that due to the “disturbing nature” of the sting videos on which the “baby parts” rhetoric is based, questions must be raised about Planned Parenthood’s use of federal funding. Not only have the videos been shown to be doctored, but when Democratic committee members requested to have the videos’ maker, David Daleiden, appear in front of today’s panel, GOP members refused. Committee chair Jason Chaffetz said the videos were unavailable in full and, oh yes, he confessed, “Without the videos, we can’t have a good discussion about them.”

In general, Chaffetz and other members of the committee covered their lack of content with bluster. Chaffetz at one point put up a slide that purported to show Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings declining as the number of its abortions spiked. When Richards said she didn’t know where those numbers came from, Chaffetz was outraged. “You’re going to deny?” he said, claiming they came from Planned Parenthood reports.

Richards begged to disagree. “Excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an antiabortion group. So, I would check your source.”

But, let’s face it; the GOP is at a disadvantage in that, according to polls, many more Americans have a good impression of Planned Parenthood than they have of the GOP. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Americans have a generally favorable image of Planned Parenthood, with 41 percent viewing the group favorably and 31 percent unfavorably, and this indicates that the nonprofit’s approval ratings have increased slightly during this last flap, though that may be due to the margin of error. By contrast, a mere 29 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the Republican Party and 45 percent view it unfavorably. Additionally, that poll found 61 percent of Americans oppose the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, in other developments: In Missouri, a state investigation released its finding that Planned Parenthood in that state does not in any way mishandle or profit from donations of fetal tissue. Dan Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) and his wife illustrator Lisa Brown pledged a million dollars to the organization, and a Utah judge blocked Governor Herbert’s order to cut off state funds to the organization.

So does all this mean that Planned Parenthood is headed toward a less turbulent time? We doubt it. The organization is likely in for an even more rocky journey, during which every detail in the large organization will be scrutinized.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Rare agreement between left and right was reached when all agreed that last week’s hearing was a disaster. Some of the unedited CMP videos were unavailable due to a judge’s order in California, and it appeared that some GOP members were afraid that calling CMP’s founder would affect pending litigation affecting both him personally as well as his organization. It seemed that the committee was unprepared for this and floundered when seeking other lines of questioning.

    Richards’ PR strategy continues to be one of deflecting from the specific substance of the videos, attacking the source, and talking about women’s health in its broadest form. In this landscape, PPFA is a government-sanctioned monopoly that is too big to fail [community health centers and other providers would not be able to fill PPFA’s role anywhere, short term or long term, according to its defenders.]