WASHINGTON – The president of Planned Parenthood vehemently refuted accusations of illegal conduct by the organization based on videos showing officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue for research.
Cecile Richards was the sole witness Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held the hearing as part of a Republican plan to stop funding the organization.
Planned Parenthood has been under fire since the July release of surreptitiously shot videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how the organization makes fetal tissue available for research. Critics say the videos show Planned Parenthood officials callously discussing the sale of human tissue.
Richards said Planned Parenthood was reimbursed for the costs of donating tissue for research, as allowed by law, but did not profit form the transactions.
At the beginning of the hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee chair, made clear his purpose for the hearing.
“The question before us is, does this organization – does Planned Parenthood really need a federal subsidy?” he said. “What I don’t like, what I don’t want to tolerate, what I don’t want to become numb to is wasting those taxpayers dollars.”
Richards said the vast majority of federal money comes to individual clinics across the country as reimbursements for medical procedures paid for by Medicaid, the federal-state program that pays for medical care for low-income people.
The hearing quickly pivoted to other issues, including Richards’ salary and travel expenses.
“This is an organization that seems to have exorbitant travel expenses. In 2013, they spent more than $5 million in travel, first class tickets, private chartered aircraft” Chaffetz said.
Richards said she has never flown first class for Planned Parenthood travel.
Democrats defended the sometimes-flustered Richards and the health care organization’s mission and work.
“My colleagues like to say this isn’t a war on women,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said. Turning to look at Richards, he added, “Look at how you’ve been treated as a witness.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., was one of the most impassioned Democrats who took Richards’ side. He accused Republicans of blindly overlooking the facts of Planned Parenthood funding.
“Republicans have been saying Planned Parenthood receives a half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds,” Cummings said. “A vast majority of that funding, approximately $400 million, comes from reimbursement for individual health services under Medicaid.”
Richards said the organization obeys all federal and state laws.
“We are very clear at Planned Parenthood. We have a very clear policy on fetal donation,” Richards said. “It’s done with full consent of the patient, and as I said earlier in my statement, it is only done in less than 1 percent of our clinics.”
Richards also sparred with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, about the initial apology she issued about the video. Richards said that she apologized for the inappropriate setting of the video – some of the meetings occurred at meals with drinks. She said the problem was that the conversations were held in a “nonconfidential, nonclinical setting.”
Jordan said she had apologized for the fetal tissue program
“You apologize for thing that are inaccurate. You don’t apologize for things that are accurate,” Jordan said.
The hearing lasted for more than four hours. The room was filled with supporters of Planned Parenthood and those who oppose abortion. So many people wanted to attend that some had to watch the proceedings on a TV in another room.
Planned Parenthood receives federal money through Medicaid, Title X, a program that funds family planning programs, and other federal grant programs. Federal law states that federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortions, except under special cases. Richards said Planned Parenthood used federal money for abortions only in cases in which the woman was raped, was the victim of incest or her life was in danger, all allowed under federal law.
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