Effort to cut public funds for Planned Parenthood moves beyond family planning services

(Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes via Flickr Creative Commons)

During the past couple of months, Republicans and Democrats have sparred about public funding for Planned Parenthood. It’s a debate reignited after an anti-abortion group released secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing fees related to fetal tissue donations. Thursday, forensic video analysts who reviewed the tapes said they were misleadingly edited and transcripts were inaccurate.

In early August, the Senate blocked a measure that would have eliminated federal funding for the women’s health organization. The de-funding effort has moved to the state level, with a handful of governors moving to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving state Medicaid funds. And Texas will soon implement a measure that will cut off funding for services the organization provides beyond family planning. Jani Actman reports.

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After an earlier round of funding cuts, the clock is ticking this week on the availability of free cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood in Texas. Come September 1, the organization will no longer be a part of the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services, or BCCS.

Sarah Wheat, Vice President of Community Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, says the program “is a life-line for uninsured women who are having severe symptoms and feel that they might have either cervical or breast cancer.”

Texas legislators voted last spring to eliminate Planned Parenthood from the cancer screening program, a move aimed at curtailing funding for clinics even affiliated with abortion providers. The program offers breast and cervical cancer evaluations for low income women, as well as immediate enrollment in Medicaid coverage should cancer be detected.

“When it comes to breast and cervical cancer, nothing is more important than getting that medical care as soon as possible,” says Planned Parenthood’s Wheat.

But anti-abortion advocates applaud Texas’s decision to cut the women’s health organization from the list of BCCS providers. John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, argues that since so many Texans oppose abortion, it doesn’t make sense to give tax dollars to Planned Parenthood for any reason.

“We see that by including Planned Parenthood in this program, the state is paying for them to establish a presence in our Texas community,” says Seago.

When Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from the cancer screening program, it wasn’t the first time the state cut off funding to the organization. In 2011, the conservative legislature cut the state’s budget for family planning by two-thirds.

Advocates argue that Planned Parenthood is being punished for its openly pro-choice stance. “What we’ve seen first-hand here in Texas is that politics has been the driving factor behind what is funded and what is dismantled,” according to Planned Parenthood’s Wheat. “And unfortunately women’s health is what’s at stake.”

Texas is one of a string of states to move forward with plans to eviscerate Planned Parenthood since an anti-abortion group called Center for Medical Progress released the undercover videos centered on fetal tissue donation. The donations are legal under the 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, and are used for certain types of research, including the study of eye diseases, diabetes and muscular dystrophy.

Republican Louisiana governor and presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal, as well as the governors of Alabama, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Utah, have all sought to defund the women’s health group on the state level. On the flip side, investigations conducted by five states – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota – found that Planned Parenthood didn’t sell fetal tissue or violate the law in their states.

At the national level, Republican leaders on the House oversight, judiciary and energy and commerce committees have demanded investigations into details surrounding Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue services.

“Given Planned Parenthood’s official comments on video and the list of serious questions that are raised, I am calling for a full congressional investigation,” Utah Republican Congresswoman Mia Love said last month while speaking on the Senate floor. “I demand information about Planned Parenthood’s donation of fetal tissues for research or any other purpose and for federal funds to be completely withdrawn.”

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Maryland’s Elijah Cummings, are seeking inquiries into whether the Center for Medical Progress broke laws by secretly filming Planned Parenthood officials.

Planned Parenthood, for its part, is fighting back. On Thursday, it released an analysis it commissioned showing that the released videos were so manipulated that they can’t serve as evidence in any official investigation into Planned Parenthood’s activities.

The group is also suing Bobby Jindal for his defunding efforts. Jindal announced in early August that he planned to end Medicaid’s contract with Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana. But last week, the White House warned any state interference between Medicaid and Planned Parenthood may be a violation of federal law.

Planned Parenthood also plans to run ads in states where senators who voted to de-fund the organization are facing tough reelection races next year.

Republican lawmakers, including Texas Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, have hinted they wouldn’t vote for a government spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Debate on that spending bill is fast approaching, as Congress has until the end of next month to approve the federal government’s budget for the next fiscal year.

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