Planned Parenthood Is Defended as Senate Democrats Block Bill to End Funding
WASHINGTON — As president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards tries to keep perspective while the group faces one of its biggest political crises. After all, she said on Monday, the founder, Margaret Sanger, was arrested 99 years ago for pamphleteering about birth control.
“There hasn’t been a moment in our history, when we were pushing forward on reproductive health care rights and access for women, that someone wasn’t after us,” Ms. Richards said in an interview.
She spoke at Planned Parenthood’s headquarters here as she waited for the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on eliminating the organization’s federal funds — a reaction to four videos that show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fees for tissue from aborted fetuses. Hours later, Democrats blocked the bill on a procedural motion. The vote was 53 to 46, short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. Two Democrats voted with nearly every Republican to take up the measure. Supporters of Planned Parenthood argued that the federal money does not pay for abortions — except in limited cases like those involving rape and incest — and that it reimburses Planned Parenthood only for services like birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screening and preventive exams.
Even so, there will be more such attempts when Congress returns from its summer recess in September. Some Republicans vow to oppose spending bills to keep the government open this fall unless funding for Planned Parenthood is purged. A House committee is investigating the organization. And Republican presidential candidates are also attacking — Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said on Monday that his state would no longer repay Planned Parenthood for health care provided to Medicaid beneficiaries, even though the organization’s clinics in Louisiana do not perform abortions.
The Senate legislation was drafted at the behest of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, as a response to the serial release in recent weeks of the videos surreptitiously recorded by antiabortion activists, who posed as middlemen seeking fetal tissue for medical researchers.
With the legislation, he sought to put not only Planned Parenthood but also its Democratic allies on the defensive.
“They must be moved by the horrifying images we have seen,” Mr. McConnell said from the Senate floor. “They must be shocked by the utter lack of compassion we have seen on display.”
But Ms. Richards said the videos proved that the Planned Parenthood employees did nothing wrong. She noted that they repeatedly said their clinics sought no profit, which would be illegal, but only reimbursement for the expense of providing fetal tissue.
“No doctor ever signed a contract with these folks,” Ms. Richards said. “They repeatedly said we don’t do this for financial gain.” The “video stalking,” she added, “is really part of a much larger and longer campaign to try to end access to both safe and legal abortion” and “certainly to end access to Planned Parenthood.” What is worse, she said, the effort comes as the nation — through the work of Planned Parenthood and others — has reduced the percentages of unintended pregnancies and abortions, and as pregnancies among teenagers are at a 40-year low.
More videos will be released in coming weeks, according to David Daleiden, the California-based anti-abortion activist who said recently in an interview that he had recorded thousands of hours of video over 30 months. The initial videos show long conversations with Planned Parenthood officials over lunch at restaurants or in clinics — including a graphic scene in a laboratory where clinicians, Mr. Daleiden and his undercover companion discuss fetal parts shown in a dish.
As part of Mr. Daleiden’s ruse, he filed state papers in 2013 to create BioMax Procurement Services, a company based in Norwalk, Calif., that participated in conferences sponsored by Planned Parenthood and other organizations to establish its credibility. He also established a nonprofit organization, the Center for Medical Progress. He has denied any wrongdoing, though Planned Parenthood has suggested that there might have been state and federal violations.
Ms. Richards said, “The depravity of these tactics and the invasion — the willingness of this group to invade the most personal, private space and to violate the medical relationships — I’ve never seen anything as low.”
Planned Parenthood retains the trust of most Americans, she said, citing poll results the group recently released. That support reflects what she called “the great alumni association of Planned Parenthood” — the estimated one in five women who have received care from its clinics at some point in their lives.
Dozens of celebrities took to social media to support the beleaguered organization on Monday. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nomination, who last week said the videos were “disturbing,” a comment that unnerved allies of hers and of Planned Parenthood.
Mrs. Clinton criticized Republican presidential candidates such as Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin; Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and Rick Perry, the previous governor of Texas, as well as Republicans in Congress. “If this feels like a full-on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is,” she said.
Privately, however, some Planned Parenthood supporters question how officials of the organization could have allowed themselves to be entrapped.
“These folks — they lied, they put up fake businesses,” Ms. Richards said. “They displayed at medical conferences as if they were actually concerned about fetal tissue research.”
She added: “Our doctors — they are not detectives. They assume that people who claim good intentions, who claim that they’re about medical research to benefit women and families on everything from Alzheimer’s to A.L.S. to sickle cell anemia — they take them at their word.”
Abortions make up less than 10 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services nationwide, she said. Of the group’s 59 affiliates with about 700 health centers, Ms. Richards said just “a handful” in three states had fetal tissue programs — California, Washington and a state the group did not name for security reasons.
Despite the controversy, Ms. Richards said that fetal tissue transfers would continue.
“I feel strongly that even though it is a very small part of what Planned Parenthood does, that women and families who choose to make fetal tissue donations, that decision or that choice that they have made is really important to them,” she said. “And that research is really important to millions of Americans.”