News Law and Policy

House Passes Bills to Defund Planned Parenthood, Add Criminal Penalties for Abortion Providers

Emily Crockett

The two bills passed Friday would “undermine access to comprehensive reproductive health care and criminalize the practice of medicine," says the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

The U.S. House passed two anti-choice bills on Friday—one that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year unless it stops performing abortions, and another that pro-choice advocates say would have a chilling effect on doctors who provide abortion care.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (HR 3134), introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), passed 241 to 187, and Rep. Trent Franks’ Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (HR 3504) passed 248 to 177.

Both votes were mostly along party lines. Five Democrats (Reps. Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Cuellar of Texas, Langevin of Rhode Island, Lipinski of Illinois, and Peterson of Minnesota) voted for the “born alive” bill, and no Republicans voted against it. Two Democrats voted for the Planned Parenthood bill (Reps. Lipinski of Illinois and Peterson of Minnesota), and three Republicans (Reps. Dent of Pennsylvania, Dold of Illinois, and Hanna of New York) voted against it.

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Black’s bill would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood for one year, which she says would give Congress time to finish its investigations into the organization.

Republicans have sought to defund Planned Parenthood—which is actually easier said than donebecause of accusations made in deceptive, highly edited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress.

“This attack on a venerable and respected provider of high-quality health care would have a devastating impact on women, especially women in rural communities, low-income women and women of color, and would deny women access to preventive care, life-saving cancer screenings and family planning services,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) during debate on the bill.

Chu noted that Planned Parenthood’s health services work to prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions, and that no federal funds are allowed to pay for abortion services except in limited circumstances.

A recent analysis found that Planned Parenthood provides contraceptive care for an outsized number of low-income women. In two-thirds of the 491 counties where Planned Parenthood operates, it serves more than half of the women who get their birth control from safety-net health centers. And in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net family planning center available.

The Franks “born alive” bill would add criminal penalties to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002. It seems to be inspired by CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood may have violated the law either by performing “partial-birth” abortions or by allowing infants to die after being born alive following an abortion. These allegations have not been substantiated.

“Babies are born alive during failed abortions,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), referring to two women who testified before the House Judiciary Committee about their experience as “abortion survivors.”

A 2013 investigation by Rewire found no evidence of any pattern of cases like these, contrary to anti-choice claims that it happens routinely and that Planned Parenthood is no different from rogue abortion provider Kermit Gosnell.

“Kermit Gosnell was just the tip of the iceberg of the abortion industry,” Franks said during Friday’s debate of his bill.

Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s executive vice president, said both the Black and Franks bills are “dangerous” and would have a “chilling effect” on both doctors and patients.

Advocates argue that Franks’ “born alive” bill would have a chilling effect on doctors because of its vague language that doesn’t offer clear medical guidance, and that it’s not necessary because the law already allows criminal charges for killing an infant.

“There is the implication … that the other side of the aisle is somehow more concerned about the life of a child born alive. That somehow Democrats just don’t care about that,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said during Friday’s debate. “And I resent that so very, very much. We unanimously voted to protect that life. And if in fact a baby is born into this world and can survive and is alive, it is considered homicide to kill that baby.”

The 2002 “born alive” law passed easily after pro-choice advocates were assured that it would not interfere with medical practice. But this new bill appears likely to interfere substantially, according to pro-choice advocates and lawmakers.

“The bill’s vague and broad mandates, combined with severe penalties, will effectively intimidate doctors and ultimately drive them away from the abortion practice, which appears to be the true intent of this troubling bill,” Chu said.

Chu explained that the Franks bill fails to distinguish between a viable and non-viable fetus, which is the constitutional line between permissible abortions and those that can be regulated or prohibited. For instance, the bill would require an abortion provider to immediately transport a fetus to the hospital regardless of whether it is viable.

“What this bill does is go further [than existing law] and create fear among physicians, healers, people who are educated and committed to health and life, and put fear into them,” Schakowsky said. “That they could spend five years in jail for providing the health-care services that a woman needs.”

Both the Franks and Black bills “undermine access to comprehensive reproductive health care and criminalize the practice of medicine,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

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