House members say Planned Parenthood needs to be investigated, defunded but offer no definite plans

Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest (at podium) speaks at preliminary hearing to explore investigation of Planned Parenthood, July 14, 2011. House members from left to right: Reps. Steve Chabot, Diane Black, Renee Ellmers, John Fleming and Jean Schmidt (photo: Sofia Resnick/The American Independent).

Less than a week after conservative law firm Americans United for Life (AUL) sent U.S. House members a lengthy report alleging 20 years of federal-funding violations committed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, at least eight representatives — most of them freshmen — have shown interest in potentially launching an investigation.

But at a press conference held Thursday by Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), none of the members who spoke about the need to eliminate all federal funding from Planned Parenthood provided a specific plan of action for how to go about such an investigation.

“We’re talking about those things,” Ellmers said, when asked by reporters about future plans. When asked about possible legislative measures, she said, “We are going to continue this fight.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), author of the controversial “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” bill, did not make the possibility of an investigation sound promising.

“I would not hold my breath for any interest from this administration in honest scrutiny of [Planned Parenthood],” he said.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) was the first House member to comment publicly on the AUL report. He released a statement saying the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which he chairs, “should review the findings of this report and possibly hold a hearing on why taxpayers are funding Planned Parenthood with its record of abuse and violations of state laws.”

Despite these claims, Stearns was absent from Thursday’s press conference. None of the 23 members on Stearns’ subcommittee was at the press conference. Notably, Democrats Diana DeGette (Colo.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) all sit on the subcommittee and are some of the most outspoken supporters for abortion rights and Planned Parenthood in Congress. In 2006, Waxman commissioned his own investigation of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are often seen to be at the opposite end of Planned Parenthood in the abortion-law funding wars.

Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of the 40-year-old AUL, spoke before several reporters and AUL officials, followed by Reps. Dr. John Fleming (R-La.), Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Smith and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Huizenga told reporters his wife serves on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in western Michigan.

Yoest said AUL sought Congress’ help because it has the subpoena powers to “get behind the numbers” of this “billion-dollar industry.” In its response to Planned Parenthood’s rebuttal (PDF) of the report, AUL called for Planned Parenthood to give Congress its internal audits from 1998 to 2008 ”to determine how much Planned Parenthood and its affiliates expended under Medicaid, Title X, and other federal programs.”

Fleming, who is a family physician, said Congress should be able to supersede patient-confidentiality laws because Planned Parenthood has been accused of criminal activity.

“The taking of innocent life is not health care,” Fleming said. “And yet we see a situation where Planned Parenthood seems to disguise its abortion factory as health care.” Referencing the number of abortions provided by Planned Parenthood in 2009 — 332,278 — Fleming said, “If that’s not a factory, I don’t know what is.”

Other representatives used this week’s ongoing debt negotiations as a perfect opportunity to take federal dollars away from an organization that each accused — based on AUL’s document — of murder and deception.

“There is no organization in America, perhaps even on earth, that stabs, dismembers, decapitates or chemically poisons more unborn children to death than Planned Parenthood,” Smith said, calling AUL’s report a “blueprint for action” in Congress.

Yoest has a Ph.D. in politics; aside from her work with AUL, she and her husband, Jack, co-run Reasoned Audacity, a joint blog on public policy, business and culture. Among Reasoned Audacity’s ”clientele, projects, associations and pro bono work” include the Pentagon, the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. Department of Education, the Heritage Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, Sears, Family Research Council and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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