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Why Congress Won’t Defund Planned Parenthood


In case you had any hopes of Congress ever defunding Planned Parenthood (PP/PPFA) in the wake of investigative videos showing senior employees haggling over selling baby body parts obtained during abortions, please let me dash them right now.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters late last week he wants “facts first” before voting to defund Planned Parenthood, even though many of his members want him to act on temporary defunding bills that both chambers of Congress saw introduced last week. Via The Hill: “‘I think they’re awful,’ Boehner said about the videos. ‘That’s why the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee are doing an investigation. I expect that we will have hearings. The more we learn, the more it will educate our decisions in the future,’ he said.”

In 2011, Boehner pushed hard for defunding, and his chamber passed a defunding bill in the last Congress. Yesterday, just three days after Boehner said to wait, his top lieutenant said Planned Parenthood should be defunded during the investigations:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday that Congress should immediately defund Planned Parenthood until the group can clear its name of any wrongdoing in the controversy following two viral videos.

The No. 2 House Republican said he supported a ‘moratorium’ on federal funding from Planned Parenthood – the highest-ranking Republican in every chamber to support defunding the group.

‘I just think, regardless of where anybody sits on the issue, is this the best place that tax dollars should be spent?’ McCarthy said in his strongest public comments on the issue. ‘Shouldn’t, at the very least, we withhold tax dollars until the investigation is done?’

Given these realities, why is Boehner hesitating now? Two reasons come to mind.

First, a recent poll showed majority public support for Planned Parenthood. Boehner may be wiser to let more videos come out, to let committees build the public policy and media case for defunding, and to let presidential candidates take the lead on this renewed effort to change public perception about Planned Parenthood. After all, policies tend to have more staying power if the public is behind them.

Second, as a leader in his chamber and within the GOP, Boehner has responsibilities to his caucus and party. A strong push now, when leading Democrats and much of the media are defending Planned Parenthood, is a recipe for renewed claims of a “War on Women.” Yes, the House has passed defunding bills to impress the base, when these didn’t make a difference for policy—now, there is a chance at building public support for defunding, and the feminist knives are sharpened against any missteps.

Republicans Have a History of Backing Down

That said, do conservatives trust Republicans to take a stand when it counts? We’ve watched too many times as promises come and go, even as we watch traditional values slip away, the size and cost of government continue to expand, and the widespread destruction of the unborn continue.

In 2011, President Obama was willing to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding, in part because he knew the GOP would back down.

While I believe Boehner is sincere in his stated disgust about the fetal harvesting videos, he has a deserved reputation for breaking promises, and many of his Republican colleagues do not have the stomach for a prolonged fight for the lives of unborn children. The fetal harvesting issue appears to have significant staying power, but one never knows what could derail an investigation or give politicians an excuse to push this issue on to the back burner. In politics, you often have to strike while the iron is hot.

Additionally, it is extremely unlikely that six Senate Democrats and President Obama will decide that taxpayers should stop funding the dismemberment of children and objectifying women. After all, Planned Parenthood is a major part of the campaign lifeblood of the Democratic Party. In 2011, President Obama was willing to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding, in part because he knew the GOP would back down—which it did.

In the Senate, ardent pro-life members are attempting to be tactical and being shot down by their own leadership. As reported by The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) blocked an effort by his fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to include a defund bill in a highway bill.

This measure would have had two benefits: Only 50 votes would be required to include an amendment, not the 60-vote margin normally required, and PP defunding would have been attached to a “must-pass” bill for road funding, Democrat priority. Instead, McConnell introduced Planned Parenthood defunding as a stand-alone bill that has almost no chance of passage because of a predicted Democratic filibuster.

Option Two: Brave a Government Shutdown

Given all of this, there is only one approach to take to defund Planned Parenthood: Force Democrats to shut down the government, or at least a major department, over their support for slaughtering millions of unborn babies and using taxpayer funds to poison women with contraceptives.

Alas, The Hill is already providing cover for Democrats:

Boehner’s dismissive attitude toward defunding Planned Parenthood through the appropriations process indicates a cautious approach in an already difficult budget year. If Republicans attempt to bring Planned Parenthood into the annual funding fight, it could lead to a high profile – and politically dangerous – government shutdown.

Minutes earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had accused the GOP of seizing on ‘a controversy that doesn’t exist’ in an attempt to defund the group and invoked the threat of a shutdown.

‘[Republicans] would shut down government rather than fund Planned Parenthood,’ she said.

Paul and others tried to do this in the Senate. McConnell basically shut them down.

The Bills Don’t Fully Defund Planned Parenthood

Technically, PP itself doesn’t “get” taxpayer dollars; its affiliates receive reimbursements for services provided, or receive government grants. According to media reports and members of Congress, the House and Senate defunding bills introduced last week would take away Planned Parenthood’s federal taxpayer support unless all of its affiliates and clinics stop paying for or conducting abortions.

‘They can still refer to non-PPFA locations for abortions and would not violate the law.’

However, the truth is less optimistic. A spokesperson for Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), who introduced the Senate’s bill, explained, “Our bill focuses on federal funding, and would ask PPFA to certify to HHS that they and their affiliates aren’t providing abortions [if they want federal funding]. They can still refer to non-PPFA locations for abortions and would not violate the law.” In other words: If PP employees are on the clock and tell women to go to non-PP clinics for abortions, that’s not counted as PP providing funding that assists with abortions.

The bills also include the standard exceptions for abortions related to rape of the mother, an incestuous relationship, or life of the mother—which would allow PP to destroy babies on the taxpayers’ dime in those cases.

Nobody Knows How Much Planned Parenthood Gets

Back in March, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examined three years of funding for PP and other abortion groups. That report found state and federal partnerships, such as Medicaid and CHIP, spent $1.2 billion on programs and grants to Planned Parenthood, including about $401 million in 2012. However, this data doesn’t assist in fully defunding Planned Parenthood, because nobody knows who is spending what. From an article I wrote in March: “GAO’s Director of Health Care, Dr. Marcia G. Crosse, told LifeSiteNews that ‘we are not able to differentiate what portion of that funding is federal, and what portion is state funds. And the contributions to those programs vary by state.’”

While the Family Research Council (FRC) used the GAO report to calculate that more than $96 million came to PP exclusively from the feds in the form of Title X funding, that is only a fraction of the amount of federal funding PP affiliates and clinics receive. Arina Grossu, director of the FRC’s Center for Human Dignity, asked the right question in an e-mail to me: “It shouldn’t be this difficult to find out how our taxpayer money is being used to fund Planned Parenthood. Where is the transparency?”

What About the Other Money?

Funding confusion is not all GAO found. Over the three years analyzed, PP affiliates received $24 million in reimbursements that weren’t included in GAO’s calculations of funding received by PP affiliates. From page 40 of the report, with emphasis added:

Some PPFA affiliates expended federal grant funding but were not required to report it to OMB because the amounts expended did not meet the required threshold. According to data provided to us by PPFA, these affiliates expended approximately $23 million in grant funding. In addition, some PPFA affiliates received an additional $24 million in reimbursements for services provided under the federal programs listed in table 25.

I have asked the offices of Lankford and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tennessee), who introduced the House defunding bill, whether their bills would rely on the GAO report, and whether the bills would yank money to Planned Parenthood that went unanalyzed by GAO. I did not receive an answer before publication. I also asked a GAO spokesperson to clarify my interpretation of the report, and that request is also pending.

With money flying around that nobody can keep track of, defunding Planned Parenthood is a pipe dream in the current federal behemoth. Thus, pro-lifers should either a) shorten their goal to “mostly defunding PP” in order to be intellectually honest, b) shrink the size and scope of the federal government as a whole, or c) make abortion illegal.

With political reality (read: cowardice by politicians, media bias, and the ignorance of the general public), only the first option is likely attainable in this Congress. The other two are possible only if Republicans stop acting like politicians and become public servants.