Planned Parenthood’s Latest Move Unlikely to Shake Off Lawmakers

‘Congress will continue to take action to protect unborn babies and investigate any organization engaged in these horrific practices,’ a spokeswoman for Speaker John Boehner told the Register.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. testifies during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 29.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. testifies during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 29. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Obtaining aborted fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood is now free of charge — a decision the abortion giant’s president made this week in response to congressional investigations into its business practices and attempts to deprive it of federal funding.

However, the move appears unlikely to shake off lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have been looking into Planned Parenthood’s role in procuring fetal tissue from aborted children for research scientists. The abortion provider has been the subject of public scrutiny and allegations of wrongdoing after a series of undercover videos released over the summer from a group called the Center for Medical Progress.

“While Planned Parenthood and other organizations may try to publicly distance themselves from the gruesome industry of selling fetal baby parts, [this] announcement does not change the facts of the investigation,” Emily Schillinger, spokeswoman for House Speaker John Boehner, told the Register. “Congress will continue to take action to protect unborn babies and investigate any organization engaged in these horrific practices.”

On Oct. 13, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards sent a letter to National Institutes of Health Director Frances Collins informing the NIH that Planned Parenthood would no longer be accepting reimbursement for procuring fetal parts from aborted children. Richards indicated that approximately seven (or 1% of its close to 700 centers) are still involved in fetal-tissue procurement from aborted children. However, she said all Planned Parenthood centers would now follow the current model of one of its affiliates, which accepts no reimbursement for expenses related to fetal-tissue harvesting.

Richards said the organization was making this decision to “reveal the true political purpose of these attacks,” accusing the abortion giant’s opponents of resorting to “disingenuous” arguments.

“Planned Parenthood’s policies on fetal-tissue donation already exceed the legal requirements,” she said. “Now, we’re going even further, in order to take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda.”

She added she did not want others to draw the conclusion that they “should not take reimbursement or that the law in this area isn’t strong.”

“Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue and to expose our opponents’ false charges about this limited but important work,” she said.


Facing Defunding Prospect

Over the past few months, Planned Parenthood’s public reputation has taken serious hits from the undercover videos that show high-level executives talking plainly about their abortion practices and role as a middleman in the fetal-parts harvesting trade. The organization’s decision to jettison any financial revenue from fetal-tissue procurement comes at a time when it has needed to make an all-out push to rally supporters and change a narrative that has put it on the defensive.

An August Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 54% of voters supported Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, and 26% opposed it. But when the Center for Medical Progress videos were described to respondents, only 34% of voters said Planned Parenthood should get federal funding, while 39% opposed it.

The House voted on Oct. 7 to form a special subcommittee that will consolidate the investigations into Planned Parenthood and look into other issues raised by the undercover videos. The subcommittee’s members and chairman have not been revealed yet.

Pro-life lawmakers are looking at the budget reconciliation process — a procedure that only requires a simple majority vote, not a 60-vote majority threshold in the Senate — to push through legislation that would place a yearlong moratorium on all federal funding to Planned Parenthood ($528 million in 2014), while Congress investigates the organization over allegations that it has violated federal laws, including the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and the federal partial-birth abortion ban. The legislation would in the meantime redirect federal funding to more than 13,500 clinics nationwide that provide primary care to low-income and underserved populations, but not abortion services, and increase their federal funding by $235 million.

If passed, however, the budget bill is certain to be vetoed by President Barack Obama.


Issues to Stay

Ovide Lamontagne, general counsel for Americans United for Life, told the Register that the issues raised surrounding Planned Parenthood will “not simply go away” with the decision to forgo compensation.

“This whole issue is not simply about the exchange of money for fetal and infant body parts,” he said. “This is a much more comprehensive problem they have.”

Lamontagne pointed out that the videos have raised questions about whether the abortion methods or procedures were altered to obtain fetal tissue, whether some procedures involved partial birth or whether some aborted infants were delivered “intact” and alive — all potential violations of federal law. The magnitude of revenue brought into Planned Parenthood under its compensation scheme is still unknown, he added, and should undergo a “historical review” to determine whether the income from aborted-tissue procurement ranged from “a few thousand to millions of dollars.”

In her letter, Richards defended Planned Parenthood’s involvement, telling the NIH that it had “exceed[ed] the federal requirements” governing fetal-tissue research that had been put in place under bipartisan legislation enacted in 1993. Richards mentioned that the law was a result of a blue-ribbon commission empaneled during the Reagan administration to “consider the underlying medical and ethical issues.”

However, Lamontagne said that while Planned Parenthood’s decision may indicate “an admission of culpability,” he indicated that current law and public policy may be “creating an extra incentive” for women to abort their children by reassuring them that the bodies will be used for science.

“We ought to be revisiting that law,” he said.

Signals from lawmakers on Capitol Hill indicate that Planned Parenthood’s decision has no bearing on their resolve to carry on their efforts against the abortion provider.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the vice chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, stated that while she welcomes Planned Parenthood’s decision to stop charging for aborted fetal-tissue donation services, “there are still many questions yet to be answered surrounding Planned Parenthood’s business practices and relationships with the procurement organizations.”


Fetal-Supply Chain

In certain respects, the national debate over Planned Parenthood’s abortion practice is leading into a renewed debate over existing federal policy and law that allows the tissue of aborted unborn children to be procured for scientists engaged in research with the promise that the results could save the lives of born children and adults.

Richards recommended the NIH convene an “expert independent panel” to review the practice of fetal-tissue procurement, noting that “[t]here is now proposed federal and state legislation to ban fetal-tissue donation for research.”

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., author of the bill to defund Planned Parenthood, agreed in a statement that the stakes were bigger than Planned Parenthood.

“Cecile Richards’ letter is right about one thing: The fight against Planned Parenthood is not just about its use of fetal tissue,” she said. “It is about how we treat a human life and how we ensure that the conscience rights of American taxpayers are respected.”

Lamontagne said state and federal investigations will be ongoing, and Planned Parenthood’s role in the fetal-tissue trade “still cries out for a remedy or solution” in public policy.

“We have to ask as a country whether or not we are going to tolerate, enable or support the harvesting of baby body parts from aborted infants,” he said. “Aborted children should never be used, and their body parts should never be used for experimentation, whether it is scientific, commercial or otherwise.”

 Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register’s Washington correspondent.