WASHINGTON — After several years on the back burner, the issue of federal funding for Planned Parenthood is back in the news.
In late May, the pro-life organization Live Action launched a centralized website for six years of videos and phone calls highlighting alleged racism, sexism and illegal actions taken at Planned Parenthood facilities across America. Along with the website is a petition calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood by Congress.
As the nation’s largest abortion provider, with 327,166 abortions done in 2012, Planned Parenthood has long been a target of pro-life activists and politicians. In 2011, when the federal government nearly shut down as Democrats and Republicans battled over federal spending, one of the issues was whether the organization should receive federal tax dollars, though Republicans eventually allowed the funding to continue.
Now, more than three years later, Live Action’s reporting has brought new attention to the issue. While the House has passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would eliminate abortion funding, specifically denying Planned Parenthood its existing federal funds has mostly been relegated to pro-life wish lists.
But with $540.6 million of Planned Parenthood’s $1.2 billion 2012/2013 revenues coming from taxpayers, it is a debate with enormous implications for the largest player in America’s abortion business.
The justification for defunding Planned Parenthood has long focused on its abortion services, which it says make up 3% of its services and about 15% of total revenues. Critics charge that abortion is Planned Parenthood’s primary source of income. Defenders say that not only is abortion a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s revenue stream, but no government funds are used for abortion outside of those allowed by the Hyde Amendment.
The Hyde Amendment, which prevents the funding of abortions except in order to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest, has been annually approved by Congress since 1976.
One issue that has angered pro-life activists is how the amount of money provided to Planned Parenthood by taxpayers has grown over time. In 2008/2009, $363.2 million was taken in from federal and state sources. And the 2013 funding does not include more than $650,000 given to Planned Parenthood employees in five states to act as Affordable Care Act navigators.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a leading pro-life Republican from Kansas, said that getting a defunding bill through the House "is up to leadership." He said it could "be part of the debate on a health-care alternative to Obamacare" if House leadership chose to make it a priority.
"My hope is that, even if they don’t let a pro-life bill come to the floor, we will see pro-life riders in bills," said Huelskamp, who expressed disappointment that, "despite a GOP-controlled House, we just haven’t made much pro-life progress in the last three and a half years."
According to Live Action’s website, the abortions carried out by Planned Parenthood are not the only reason its federal funding should be eliminated. The group alleges that rampant illegal activity should disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving taxpayer funds.
Several of Live Action’s undercover videos, which were produced beginning in 2008, show that people posing as a pimp and a prostitute were told how to hide the pregnancies of purported minors being trafficked as sex slaves. Unknowingly on camera, one client manager at a Planned Parenthood facility said the pimp and prostitute should say the minors are students, while a New Jersey employee said to make non-English-speaking girls from other nations "look as legit as possible." A counselor in Virginia told undercover agents that "once or twice a month" sex-trafficked minors receive abortions.
Alleged sex crimes are a major focus of Live Action’s newest project. In one video, a young woman posing as a 13-year-old girl who had gotten pregnant from a 31-year-old man was told by a Planned Parenthood employee to claim the man was a 14-year old boy, "in your grade or whatever." Rather than go to authorities to report the alleged statutory rape, the employee advised the purported victim to leave Indiana to avoid the state’s parental-consent laws.
And an agent posing as a 15-year-old girl raped by a 23-year-old male was told to "figure out a birth date that works" so she could avoid police involvement. A clinic employee, based in Los Angeles, also advised the undercover woman that if she reported herself to be 15 on the paperwork police would investigate. If the alleged victim claimed she was 16 on the paperwork, no police involvement would take place. The employee said that if the girl claimed she was 16, and thus of legal age to be having a sexual relationship with an adult male, the employee would pretend she "[didn’t] know anything."
Live Action says that even some of Planned Parenthood’s legal actions should lead to its defunding. On four recorded occasions, money from purported donors was accepted for the cause of aborting black babies. Sex-selective abortions were also highlighted by a video series, which shows Planned Parenthood employees knowingly helping expectant mothers abort female children because of their sex.
Planned Parenthood did not reply to a May 29 request from the Register for comment about Live Action’s new initiative.
Support in Congress
Most pro-life efforts in 2014 have focused on a bill that has passed the House and is held up in the Senate: a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has publicly supported the bill, though lead sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said getting a vote — even a failed one — would be considered a victory.
In his comments to the Register, Huelskamp expressed frustration with House leadership over the Planned Parenthood funding issue. "It’s one thing to try and fail against the Democratic Senate and Democratic White House," he said. "But to not even try is unfortunate. It’s high time we reclaim the title of the pro-life party."
Live Action’s defunding effort comes as the House considers appropriations legislation that would fund the federal government in 2015. Any defunding legislation that passed the House would have to pass through the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to happen.
House GOP leadership offices did not respond to requests for comment from the Register, and McConnell’s office likewise did not return requests.
Off of Capitol Hill, however, defunding has support. Mallory Quigley, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Register that "we’re grateful to our friends at Live Action for continuously working to expose the truth about America’s No. 1 abortion provider and for echoing the call to see them defunded."
"Planned Parenthood receives public funding at a rate of $1.5 million per day," Quigley said, "and their most recent annual report shows that they performed 100,000 more abortions in 2013 than 10 years ago. Meanwhile, their already low number of cancer screenings and other non-abortion services continues to drop."
In addition to calling for Planned Parenthood’s defunding, Live Action is demanding an investigation of the company. According to Live Action’s president and founder, Lila Rose, "When I first began to go undercover in these facilities in 2007, I thought I would find illegal and harmful activity."
But she says that she "had no idea of the huge, company-wide commitment to abortion at any cost — the fraud, the lies, the cover-ups."
Dustin Siggins writes
Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.