Congressional Republicans launch Planned Parenthood financial investigation

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, is moving forward with plans to launch an investigation of Planned Parenthood, a national chain of women’s health clinics.

Stearns told our sister site, The Florida Independent, back in July that such an investigation was possible, after the release a report arguing that lawmakers should defund Planned Parenthood. The report was written by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. As The Independent reported, Americans United called upon Congress to hold an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s finances and practices. While Planned Parenthood called the report false and “ideologically driven,” Stearns did not rule out launching an investigation.

Sarah Kliff of Politico reports that Stearns has already asked the president of Planned Parenthood to provide the committee with a range of documents.

According to the letter sent to Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, Stearn’s “committee has questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken by the [Planned Parenthood Federation of America] and its affiliates related to its use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on the funding of abortion.”

According to a recent statement from Planned Parenthood:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) expressed disappointment that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has put politics before lifesaving health care by launching what appears to be a politically motivated investigation and demanding an onerous amount of records from PPFA and its 83 affiliates, some going as far back as 13 years. …

“At a time when the American people need jobs, some members of Congress are instead misusing their political power to go after health care access for the most vulnerable women in the country,” said Richards. “We are certain that the millions of women and men who count on Planned Parenthood will make their voices heard and speak out, just as they did during the budget battle in the spring.” …

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in a letter to Congressman Stearns, wrote, “We are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request to Planned Parenthood. The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood and report publicly on their findings. These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.”

Stearns has asked Planned Parenthood for a host of documents, including auditing records and written policies.

Stearns has disapproved of Planned Parenthood for some time. This year he introduced the Informed Choice Act, which The Independent reported “would authorize grants ‘to nonprofit tax-exempt organizations for the purchase of ultrasound equipment to provide free examinations to pregnant women needing such services, and for other purposes.’” In essence, his bill would have given money to crisis pregnancy centers, which aim to discourage women from having abortions, so they could buy ultrasound equipment.

In their letter to Stearns, DeGette and Waxman note that they believe this investigation to be one more cog in an ongoing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. They wrote, “This year, House Republicans have voted twice to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. You strongly supported these efforts, stating that ‘defunding Planned Parenthood should be a fiscal and moral priority for Congress.’ You also unfairly smeared the organization when you claimed that Planned Parenthood is ‘willing to use public funds to commit a federal crime’ and is ‘willing to ignore the law in promoting its service.’ … It would be an abuse of the oversight process if you are now using the Committee’s investigative powers to harass Planned Parenthood again. Your fervent ideological opposition to Planned Parenthood does not justify launching this intrusive investigation.”