Undercover footage shot at a Denver Planned Parenthood clinic is at the center of a national debate over whether to pull federal funding from the nonprofit that provides critical reproductive health services to millions of Americans.
When it comes to the videos themselves, details are scarce and context is lacking. But allegations that both Planned Parenthood and the anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress that shot the videos broke the law have been bandied about, as we have reported.
In the midst of all this, Congress is gearing up to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood early next week with conservative Republicans threatening a government shutdown and mainstream Republicans swearing that will never happen.
Colorado delegates are taking rather predictable positions — with Republicans pushing to defund Planned Parenthood and Democrats standing behind it.
Back in Washington, in the Senate, Rand Paul from Kentucky and fellow presidential hopeful Ted Cruz from Texas have introduced legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of the around $500 million it receives from the federal government every year. Their measure will need 60 votes to be filibuster-proof.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s votes will cancel each other’s out.
Bennet does not support the bill.
“Anyone found to have done anything illegal should be punished to the full extent of the law,” said Bennet’s spokesman Adam Bozzi in an email to The Colorado Independent. “Last year, more than 80,000 Coloradans relied on Planned Parenthood for health care services, including cancer screenings, preventative care and wellness exams, immunizations, and contraception … Senator Bennet does not believe that we should deny access to this critical care.”
Gardner’s office did not reply to The Colorado Independent’s request for comment, but he told 9NEWS that he’s “disgusted and deeply saddened by the recent videos released documenting highly unethical and inhumane practices committed by Planned Parenthood officials and affiliates.” He also added that he’s signed onto a bipartisan letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell urging her department’s cooperation in investigations into Planned Parenthood’s so-called “organ harvesting” practices.
The House of Representatives went on summer recess, so Colorado’s delegation won’t have to cast what’s bound to be a high stakes vote until they reconvene in September.
The reprieve is only temporary, however, as some House Republicans have indicated they won’t vote for any spending bill that puts taxpayers’ dollars toward Planned Parenthood — even if it’s attached to must-pass legislation to keep the government up and running. And others have promised to attach defunding riders onto the same funding resolution.
None of Colorado’s representatives have taken this hard line, but Rep. Doug Lamborn and Rep. Ken Buck are among the over 130 House Republicans who signed onto a letter to the Department of Justice urging an immediate and thorough investigation of Planned Parenthood’s fetal-tissue donation program.
“The harvesting of human fetal body parts for sale is an activity which shocks the conscience,” the letter reads. “Moreover, the tragic ethical considerations, potential for criminal violations and involvement of taxpayer subsidies raise issues of great public importance.”
Nobody in the Republican delegation responded to request for comment on this article.
Coffman, Gardner, Lamborn and Tipton have all voted to defund Planned Parenthood in the past. Buck has never voted on it, but isn’t shy about wanting to. He and Lamborn are both signatories on a letter to Speaker John Boehner urging defunding.
Meanwhile, Democratic supporters of Planned Parenthood are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group behind the videos. It’s registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit but engages in political activities, which is not allowed, Planned Parenthood supporters allege.
The California Attorney General’s office is also looking into whether the incognito activists broke any laws when they shot footage of a Planned Parenthood medical director at lunch in Orange County without her consent while using a fraudulent identity.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Denver is co-chair of the pro-choice caucus and sits on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which recently launched a probe into Planned Parenthood. She wrote a letter to Chairman Tim Murphy to express disappointment in his decision to open an investigation “based on a clearly manipulated, deceptively edited video by an organization using ethically and legally questionable tactics.”
She went on to detail everything that’s ethically and legally questionable about CMP’s tactics, calling the group’s members “extremists who believe that women should not be able to exercise their legal right to safe reproductive health care.” Rep. DeGette wrote to Murphy that “the subcommittee should not be used as a platform to elevate this private agenda” but asked that if the investigation does continue, he do everything in his power to gather and release all the existing raw footage that CMP has kept under wraps.
Democratic Congressmen Polis and Perlmutter both oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
But what would defunding Planned Parenthood actually look like?
To start with some basics, Planned Parenthood’s most recent budget shows the organization received $528.4 million in public funding last year — just over 40 percent of its overall budget — but it doesn’t breakdown state vs. federal dollars. The Government Accountability Office estimates the nonprofit got $105 million from the federal government in 2012.
As Sarah Kliff explains at Vox, public money flows into Planned Parenthood through two major channels: Medicaid and Title X Family Planning grants. Around 71 million low-income Americans are insured through Medicaid, which reimburses Planned Parenthood for providing birth control, HPV vaccines, STD testing and cancer screenings in many states. Title X will subsidize similar services for uninsured patients.
The vast majority of people getting publicly funded family planning services are doing so through Medicaid, according to independent research by the Guttmacher Institute. In the past, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have mostly aimed to knock out Title X grants, which account for only 10 percent of government spending on family planning services. Fully defunding Planned Parenthood would require passing legislation preventing reimbursements from Medicaid — a much more politically daunting task.
Importantly, federal money does not pay for abortions.
Photo by Selbe, Creative Commons, via Flickr.