By Tom Strode, Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (BP) – The legislative effort to defund Planned Parenthood failed Aug. 3 in the U.S. Senate, but pro-life advocates said they will not give up.
The Senate voted 53-46 to bring to the floor a bill to eliminate federal funds for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. While a majority of senators favored consideration of the proposal, the attempt to invoke cloture, as it is known, fell short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation and establish a path to its passage.
The failure to move the bill, S. 1881, to the floor came in spite of the release during the previous three weeks of videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s trade in baby body parts. The four undercover videos show PPFA officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children for research. A fifth video was released Tuesday (Aug. 4).
Pro-life leaders expressed their dismay, as well as their devotion to continuing the defunding campaign.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said he is disappointed the Senate “did not show the moral leadership to stop funding this violence. Now Senators are on record as for or against, and the debate goes on.”
“We will not rest until the fundamental protections of right to life and liberty apply to all, regardless of age, income, or stage of development,” said Moore, who endorsed the Senate bill in a July 30 letter to leaders of both houses.
Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., who has introduced a defunding bill in the House of Representatives, said the Senate vote “was a triumph of politics over principle and deceit over truth.”
“The fight to defund Planned Parenthood is far from over,” said Black, whose legislation would place a one-year moratorium on funds for PPFA while Congress investigates the organization. “We will not give up and we will not stand down.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R.-Iowa, sponsor of the rejected Senate defunding bill, said she will continue to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to cooperate with investigations of Planned Parenthood. “I remain committed to getting these answers because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society,” she said.
The roll-call vote demonstrated the Democratic Party’s continued commitment to Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights organizations. Only two Democrats — Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to bring the bill to the floor.
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois was the lone Republican to oppose advancing the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also voted “nay” but only in order to be able to bring the bill up again as required by Senate rules. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., would have added another vote for cloture, but he missed the roll call to be in New Hampshire for a GOP presidential candidate forum.
On Tuesday (Aug. 4), a Planned Parenthood executive criticized the defunding attempts as “political games.”
Dawn Laguens, PPFA’s executive vice president, said on CNN, “What we’re seeing here are attacks on people’s ability to get health care. We’re seeing attacks that are intended, in their end analysis, to get rid of safe, legal abortion in this country and destroy Planned Parenthood, who stands up for the reproductive health rights and freedom of women and all people in this country.”
Foes of the defunding effort have defended the need for Planned Parenthood’s services — and the need for federal funding of the organization — to women, especially those with lower incomes. They also have criticized the videos as fraudulent.
Ernst’s bill makes clear it would maintain federal funding for women’s health at the same level but would transfer money no longer available for Planned Parenthood to other eligible service providers. Black has described as “a lie” the contention by PPFA that defunding it would result in a crisis for low-income women.
The videos, produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), show conversations between PPFA officials and individuals portraying representatives of a human biologics firm. On the videos, recorded secretly by a hidden camera, Planned Parenthood executives are shown discussing their ability to provide parts of aborted fetuses for research and their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.
While CMP releases edited videos of the conversations, it also releases what it describes as full footage of the interactions between PPFA officials and those recording the conversations.
The video released Aug. 4 shows a woman identified as Melissa Farrell speaking with the individuals working for CMP at the Houston abortion clinic of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Farrell is identified as the affiliate’s director of research.
In the video, Farrell says of her clinic’s practice in obtaining fetal parts, “If we alter our process, and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, then we can make it part of the budget that any dissections are this, and splitting the specimens into different shipments is this. It’s all just a matter of line items.”
When asked if the clinic can change abortion methods to supply intact specimens, she says, “Some of our doctors in the past have projects and they’re collecting the specimens, so they do it in a way that they get the best specimens, so I know it can happen.”
Abby Johnson, formerly the director of a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast clinic, testified in a Texas Senate hearing July 29 about the affiliate’s trade in baby body parts, according to CMP. Johnson estimated the affiliate previously had made as much as $120,000 per month from the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
In related news, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana announced Aug. 3 his administration had canceled its Medicaid agreement with Planned Parenthood.
“Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life,” said Jindal, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. “It has become clear that this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state.”
The ERLC and other opponents of government funding of Planned Parenthood have tried in previous congressional sessions to cut off money for the organization and other abortion providers but have always fallen short. In 2011, an effort to bring a PPFA defunding bill to the Senate floor received only 42 votes.
In its latest financial report (2013-14), PPFA said it received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements. It performed 327,653 abortions during 2013.