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GOP Congressmen Use Hearing to Badger Planned Parenthood President

Emily Crockett

Republican lawmakers asked Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards the same questions over and over, seeming not to care what her answers were or whether their questions were grounded in reality.

Congressional Republicans spent more than five hours at a Tuesday House hearing grilling Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, repeatedly interrupting her answers with a barrage of repetitive questions.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing marked the first time that Richards, or any representative from Planned Parenthood, has been called to testify publicly before Congress since an anti-choice front group released heavily edited videos attacking the women’s health organization this summer. But it was the third time in the past month that congressional Republicans have held a four-hour-plus House committee hearing on the subject.

The hearing was supposed to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, but most of the questions from GOP committee members weren’t about taxpayer funding.

They were about Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, which are not taxpayer funded except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. They were about whether the nonprofit “profits” from its health services. They were about how much money Planned Parenthood raises from other sources, how it spends that money, whether Richards’ salary is too high, and whether Planned Parenthood really “needs” federal funding because it does other fundraising.

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“No federal funds go to my salary,” Richards said in response to a long line of questioning from Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) about her compensation.

Many questions were asked over and over again, seemingly without regard to how Richards answered them. Some GOP lawmakers barely gave Richards time to answer one question before pivoting to another. Others badgered her when she gave an answer they didn’t like, as when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) spent more than five minutes loudly demanding that Richards explain exactly which “statements” she apologized for in the first video featuring Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, Deborah Nucatola.

At least six different Republican committee members—Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, John Mica of Florida, Mia Love of Utah, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and Diane Black of Tennessee—asked Richards about whether Planned Parenthood affiliates provide mammograms, or why they don’t. Anti-choice groups often attack Planned Parenthood’s health services by noting that they don’t provide mammograms in-house.

Every time, Richards gave basically the same answer: Planned Parenthood affiliates don’t have mammogram machines, but that’s typical of a primary care provider. Planned Parenthood gives patients an initial breast exam, and then refers them to a radiology center for a mammogram if a lump is found (much like how doctors handle X-rays for a broken bone).

Richards noted that Planned Parenthood is often the only safety net provider available for low-income patients, and that it can’t easily be replaced by other community health centers as Republicans often claim.

GOP lawmakers were even more dogged about the idea that Planned Parenthood might somehow “profit” from its health services, even though it’s a nonprofit. They hammered Richards on the $127 million in “excess revenue” that they said the organization collected in fiscal year 2013-2014.

Nonprofits often take in excess revenue, but they are required by law to use it to further develop the organization’s activities. Richards said repeatedly that Planned Parenthood uses excess revenue to expand its services, including building new clinics.

This didn’t satisfy Republicans who assumed that abortion and fetal tissue donation are profit-makers for Planned Parenthood, and who appeared to misunderstand basic functions of both nonprofit organizations and of medical providers.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) asked Richards about her “market penetration,” a corporate term that doesn’t easily translate to nonprofit work. Gosar also claimed Richards had narrowed Planned Parenthood’s focus to the “profit center” of abortion so that the organization could stay in business.

Reps. Chaffetz, Lummis, and Love all asked Richards how much revenue her affiliates make from abortion services, and Chaffetz asked Richards to provide the committee with a list of affiliates who make a majority of their revenue from abortion services.

Chaffetz used a blatantly misleading chart provided by Americans United for Life, an anti-choice lobbying group, to suggest that Planned Parenthood has dramatically increased its abortion services while dramatically reducing its cancer screenings.

Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) asked Richards whether Planned Parenthood “profits” from Medicaid reimbursements or other taxpayer funds.

“I don’t believe there are any profits from any Medicaid services in this country,” Richards said, adding that there is a shortage of doctors who will accept Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates. 

Richards repeatedly clarified that Planned Parenthood doesn’t just “get a big check” from the government. Most of its federal funding comes in the form of direct Medicaid reimbursements for services provided—none of which are abortion services except in the rare exceptions allowed under the Hyde Amendment.

Republicans also cast suspicions on Planned Parenthood’s lobbying activity, without demonstrating that any of it is legally suspect or that it uses taxpayer money.

“Which is more important to you, Ms. Richards, actually providing women’s health care services, or lobbying?” Mulvaney asked.

“I think the two things go hand in hand,” Richards said. “What we have learned over the years is that in order to be able to provide health-care services to women, you have to also be able to advocate, particularly for women who are underserved.”

Democratic committee members were outraged at Richards’ treatment. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) decried the “misogyny” of his colleagues who interrupted, talked over, and intimidated Richards, and the fact that they criticized her because of her salary.

“Who do you think you are? Making a professional salary as the head of a premier national organization, and daring to actually make decisions as the head of that organization,” Connolly asked Richards sarcastically. “Lord Almighty, what’s America coming to?”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) gave a passionate speech about how Republicans would never talk about cutting federal support to banks whose CEOs make 50 times more than Richards and who, unlike Planned Parenthood, have actually been convicted of crimes.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) complained that “the facts don’t matter” to Republicans who use trumped-up allegations about “selling baby parts” as an excuse to attack abortion rights.

“When we learned that the [Center for Medical Progress] videos had dozens of unexplained edits, removing phrases like, ‘We do not profit from tissue donation,’ from those who work for Planned Parenthood, that did not matter,” Maloney said. “When we learned that less than 1 percent of Planned Parenthood centers had any involvement whatsoever in fetal tissue donation, that did not matter. … The core issue is that Republican members of Congress now almost universally oppose a woman’s right to choose.”

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