Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards testified Tuesday morning before the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee. The majority of the committee was interested in “investigating” Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, and also in letting the public know they think abortion is bad and wrong, and that they find Richards morally disgusting.
House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah began crying immediately, with an opening statement largely about his mother, who died of breast cancer, and his wife, who works for a plastic surgeon who treats women who’ve had mastectomies. His point being that cancer kills, and we could “quadruple” cancer spending if we only defunded Planned Parenthood.
“The question before us is does this organization really need federal subsidies?” he asked. “Does it need federal dollars? Every time we spend a federal dollar what we’re doing is we’re pulling money out of somebody’s pocket and giving it to somebody else. What I don’t like, what I don’t want to tolerate, what I don’t want to become numb to is wasting those taxpayer dollars. And as best I can tell — we’re gonna have a hearing here — this is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidies.” (Later in the hearing, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan agreed, saying memorably that the government needs to take money away from “the guys doing the bad things.”)
Chaffetz also called Planned Parenthood’s salaries and travel expenses “exorbitant,” and attacked them for using “celebrities and other hoopla” at their fundraisers. He also argued that they’re using their money for “advocacy and lobbying,” not providing healthcare to young women “who need a mammogram.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, fired back, calling David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress “obsessed” with discrediting Planned Parenthood, and Republicans eager to aid him. (Today, Missouri, one of the states who thunderously promised to investigate Planned Parenthood supposedly selling fetal tissue, released a statement admitting they could find no evidence that PP is doing that.) And New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, also a Democrat, called the CMP videos “outright falsehoods and lies” peddled by “radical anti-choice activists.” (She added, dryly, that most of the Republicans who seem to support defunding the organization are men.)
Richards began her testimony reading loosely from a prepared statement about the services that Planned Parenthood provides, and with a brief primer on how Planned Parenthood’s federal funding actually works. “No federal funds pay for abortion services, except in the very limited circumstances permitted by law — when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered.”
Richards also addressed the CMP videos directly. “The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue,” she told the committee.
She also detailed the ways that she says Planned Parenthood acts as a safety net: “For many American women, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider they will see this year. It is impossible for our patients to understand why Congress is once again threatening their ability to go to the health care provider of their choice.”
Chaffetz asked Richards if any overseas funding goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo—when she started to answer, he immediately interrupted her, saying, “We don’t have time for a big narrative.”
“I’m trying to answer your question,” Richards replied, mildly.
Chaffetz also sarcastically “congratulated” Richards on her salary, which she admitted is $520,000 a year. And he basically accused Planned Parenthood of funneling federal funds to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and asked Richards if she “ran it.”
“Zero federal funds are related to—” Richards began.
“It’s the commingling that bothers us,” Chaffetz interrupted. “That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Chaffetz also told Richards that Planned Parenthood “does not do mammograms,” which is true. Neither do private practice gynecologists, or anyone but a radiology center, which Richards patiently tried to point out.
“Planned Parenthood is a women’s health center, just like where I go for my mammograms,” she said. “If you need a mammogram, you’re referred to a radiological center.”
Chaffetz also showed Richards a slide, one which claims that Planned Parenthood’s money spent breast exams has gone done in a straight line, while abortions have gone straight up. It looks like this:
Richards responded that she’d never seen the slide before and that the information wasn’t accurate.
“It comes straight from your annual reports,” Chaffetz said.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re trying to get to the truth here,” Richards responded dryly. And, a moment later: “My lawyers just informed me that the source of this information is Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. I would check your source.” (Indeed, the source is listed in the bottom right corner of the slide, and it is Americans United for Life.)
You can watch the hearing live here:
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Cecile Richards during her testimony. Screengrab via C-Span