Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Old is new in partisan battle over Planned Parenthood -- Oct. 1, 2015 column


Leave it to House Republicans to turn an accomplished executive making $520K a year into an underdog. 

After they forced out House Speaker John Boehner, who refused to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood, conservatives turned their fire on the nonprofit’s president Cecile Richards. By attacking her personally, they made her an instant celebrity, a champion of high quality health care for poor women, and a hero to many.  

The government now has a lifeline until Dec. 11 and Planned Parenthood is still providing health care services with federal reimbursements. As for Richards, her marathon performance Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee showed why she earns the big bucks.

Bullied for more than five hours, she didn’t cave, get flustered or lash out. She calmly defended her organization. She kept her cool.

Which is more than you can say for members of Congress. They were as emotional as she was composed. Republicans were antagonistic and rude, Democrats apologetic and shocked, shocked.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, interrupted Richards 19 times in just five minutes. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a nurse, insisted that, “Abortion is not health care.”

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said he hoped every American woman was watching the hearing.

“My colleagues say there’s no war on women. Look at how you’ve been treated as a witness -- intimidation, talking over, interrupting, cutting off sentences, criticizing you because of your salary. . . Lord almighty, what’s America coming to?”

Connolly railed about the “the disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”

But when Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., asked Richards if she should be treated differently than male witnesses who often face tough questioning, she responded in a flash:

“Absolutely not. That’s not how my mama raised me.”

Richards, 57, the daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, is no stranger to toxic Washington. She worked years ago as a deputy staff director for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 2006, she has said, “We aim to be the largest kick-butt political organization.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said trying to “defund” Planned Parenthood is an “exercise in futility” with President Obama in the White House. For House Republicans, though, Planned Parenthood may be the new Obamacare – an object of disgust to be flogged and voted against repeatedly.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., led a symbolic effort to end funding Wednesday as the House passed the continuing resolution to keep the government open.

“I believe we have to fight until the very end,” she said.

Several committees are putting Planned Parenthood under a microscope, and Boehner agreed to create a select committee to investigate the nonprofit similar to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Republicans have battled Planned Parenthood for decades. It provides 327,000 abortions annually, and its separate political arm aids Democratic candidates.

In July, an undercover sting video surfaced, purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials cavalierly negotiating the sale of fetal tissue for research and discussing procedures to ensure intact fetal organs. Other disturbing videos followed.

Planned Parenthood says the videos were heavily and deceptively edited, and it denies any wrongdoing. Richards insisted that no federal funds are used for abortions except in the rare circumstances allowed under the law and that Planned Parenthood donates a small amount of fetal tissue to research in two states at the cost of its expenses.

About 2.7 million women and men a year, many of them low income, go to Planned Parenthood clinics for cancer screenings, birth control, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and other services.

Planned Parenthood receives $450 million annually in federal funds -- $390 million in Medicaid reimbursements for services provided, less than $1 million in child health and Medicare funds and $60 million from the National Family Planning Program, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported.

Critics contend taxpayers’ money could be better spent on cancer research.

Yet strong majorities of Americans support funding for Planned Parenthood, four separate polls by news organizations and the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported this week.

“All women in this country deserve to have the same opportunities as members of Congress and their families for high quality and timely health care,” Cecile Richards said.

Her mama would have been proud.

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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