There's Another Massive Fight About Planned Parenthood Brewing

Photo: John Greim/Getty Images.
Will the federal government shut down over subsidized birth control? A fight that started when an anti-abortion group released heavily doctored videos of Planned Parenthood officials supposedly discussing illegal activity could lead to another historic moment in Congressional dysfunction.

Conservative members of the House and Senate, including at least one candidate for president, have said they are willing to let a government spending bill expire if a new one includes money for the reproductive healthcare organization. Congress has only 12 workdays to reach an agreement or risk another shutdown; the last stoppage was in 2013.

The furor began when an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress began releasing videos it claimed proved that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue. The first video featured a top official discussing the group’s fetal-tissue donation program, and later ones showed anti-abortion activists posing as people interested in buying fetal tissue.

The group's claims were quickly debunked and the videos were proved to have been heavily edited — women have the option to donate fetal tissue for medical research, and Planned Parenthood is allowed to recoup certain costs connected to those donations. But that hasn’t stopped some political leaders from waging a war against the nonprofit.

Members of Congress and state legislatures have spent much of the summer calling for an end to public funding for the group and for an end to fetal-tissue research, which has been an important component of medical innovations including vaccines and treatments for diabetes. Wisconsin is already considering a ban on fetal-tissue research, and other states may follow that lead.

Despite what some Republican leaders say, most Americans don’t actually want to defund Planned Parenthood, and there isn’t enough support in Congress to push the plan through. Sen. Mitch McConnell said last week that the group’s foes would have to wait until there is a Republican president to make it happen. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, all of whom are running for the presidency, have said Congress should cut the money, so Planned Parenthood will almost certainly be a part of any presidential debates about reproductive rights.

Many states have already slashed public funding for reproductive health care, which could have a devastating impact on the well-being of poor women and women of color. In Texas, Planned Parenthood was kicked off a program that provides breast- and cervical-cancer screenings for uninsured women. And despite what anti-abortion groups say, there is no dedicated federal funding for abortion services — the government might shut down over something nonexistent.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear from multiple anti-abortion activists on Wednesday. Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood, said in a statement, “We know very little about this hearing, aside from its provocative title and that the three witnesses called by the Republican majority are longtime activists who advocate for banning abortion completely.

"While all of these congressional investigations are based on false claims and videos that have been completely discredited, we continue to be fully transparent and cooperate with all of the committees," he continued.

Fights over funding Planned Parenthood’s healthcare operations may not feel urgent, but there have been much scarier consequences as a result of the recent attacks on the organization. Officials in Pullman, WA, say that a devastating September 4 fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic was arson; it could be closed for more than a month.

Violence and threats against abortion providers is not uncommon. Although no doctors have been killed since the 2009 murder of George Tiller, a Wichita physician who became famous for his motto, “Trust Women,” there were at least 450 reports of harassment in 2014 alone, a dozen instances of vandalism, and one bomb threat, according to data collected by the National Abortion Federation. The women who continue Tiller’s work in Kansas have faced threats since they opened a clinic in 2013.


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