Planned Parenthood Indignant Over|Doctored Videos at Congressional Hearing

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Partisan bickering ate up a grueling five-hour hearing Tuesday in which the president of Planned Parenthood spoke about her organization’s use of federal funds.
     Contentious at times, the hearing revolved around a series of undercover videos released by a conservative anti-abortion group that purportedly show Planned Parenthood employees bartering over the price of fetal tissue.
     Since similar “undercover” footage released in a 2009 bid to discredit ACORN proved heavily edited, the substance of the Planned Parenthood videos remains contested.
     Indeed just as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today, Missouri announced that its investigation into the videos “found no evidence that that [Planned Parenthood] has engaged in unlawful disposal of fetal organs and tissue.”
     Beyond the videos, Republican members of the committee critiqued Richards’ salary and Planned Parenthood’s use of funds for political activism, travel and foreign aid.
     “In 2012 and 2013, you spent roughly $600,000 on blowout parties, chocolate champagne events, and Salt-n-Pepa came and performed a concert,” Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in his opening statement. “All kinds of celebrities and other hoopla. These are things they lost money doing, according to their tax records.”
     In addition to skewering the organization’s large travel budget, some asserted that the women’s health organization takes political favors from Democrats in exchange for its support during elections.
     “Politicians give money to Planned Parenthood, who give it back to politicians at election time, who get elected, and give it back to Planned Parenthood, who give it back to politicians who get elected and the game plays on,” Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said during the hearing.
     The source of the organization’s funding was a common theme throughout the hearing. Saying Planned Parenthood reported $127 million in revenue over expenses last year, Chaffetz opened the hearing by questioning why the organization would need federal dollars with that kind of revenue.
     Richards countered repeatedly that most of the federal funds come through Medicaid reimbursements, and other programs for providing health care to low-income people.
     She maintained that the funds do not come in a large lump sum and by law cannot go toward abortion, except in certain circumstances.
     Only a small amount came from the government for an experimental trial, and none of that made the group a profit, Richards said.
     Rep. Elijah Cummings called the Republicans hypocrites for criticizing Richards’ salary. The Maryland Democrat asked Richards repeatedly if Republicans had investigated any of the CEOs of banks and other large companies who pleaded guilty to crimes but still receive federal support.
     “When it comes to women’s health, the Republicans’ approach is completely different,” Cummings said while questioning Richards. “Republicans targeted Planned Parenthood, which provides essential, high quality care to millions of American women more aggressively than all of these companies combined, with no evidence of wrongdoing these republican investigations multiply in the political theater that they use.”
     Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y, said most of the opposition to Planned Parenthood came from men who would never use the organization’s services. She accused Republicans of trying to deprive women of vital health care.
     “There is one simple reason we are at this point,” Maloney said. “Republicans want to outlaw a women’s right to choose.”
     Addressing the “undercover” videos that spurred the hearing, Cummings and other Democrats noted that the edited-out scenes from the full footage show employees emphasizing that they cannot profit from the selling of fetal tissue.
     But Chaffetz insisted the hearing was about Planned Parenthood’s funding, not the videos, and that congressional efforts to investigate the accuracy of the videos were impeded by a restraining order against the group that released the videos, the Center for Medical Progress.
     To drive home their point that federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood could be better spent elsewhere, Republicans pointed to the lack of mammogram machines in Planned Parenthood clinics.
     While the number of abortions that the organization performs increases, there has been a decline in cancer screenings, they said.
     But Richards said most doctors must refer women to radiology clinics for mammograms, and that her organization is not unique in its lack of machines.
     Many of the lines of questioning featured few questions.
     After Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., used his allotted time without giving Richards a chance to respond to some of his statements, Richards asked Chaffetz if she would be able to respond.
     Chaffetz said he had to keep the hearing moving, but agreed she had not gotten the chance to answer.
     “I agree, that was more of a comment than a question,” Chaffetz said.
     Cummings’ questions about Republican investigations into other CEO pay were similar, yielding a series of one-word answers from Richards about whether Republicans had looked into other organizations.
     “Last month Lockheed Martin was fined millions of dollars for using taxpayer funds to lobby Congress to maintain its hold on a multi-billion dollar Pentagon grant,” Cummings said. “Lockheed’s CEO received a stunning $33 million last year. Mrs. Richards, do you know whether there has been any effort, any to eliminate Lockheed Martin’s federal funding?”
     “Sounds like there hasn’t been,” Richards responded, eliciting laughs from the crowd.
     When there were questions, they often came during heated exchanges. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, repeatedly demanded to know why Richards apologized for the videos if they showed nothing illegal.
     Jordan accused Richards of avoiding his question while she attempted to answer that she apologized for the context of some of the videos.
     The contentious exchanges rubbed some representatives the wrong way.
     Rep. Gerald Connelly, D-Va., decried the “disrespect and misogyny rampant” at the hearing, referring to his colleagues’ treatment of Richards during questioning.
     Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., scoffed at the suggestion the committee had treated Richards any differently than other witnesses.
     “This is my 27th hearing here in the Congress, and I can assure you I’ve seen many men treated much tougher than you have been here today,” Duncan said during the hearing.
     Half an hour before the questioning began, the line to get into the hearing room wrapped down a hallway in the Rayburn House Office Building. The crowd was eventually forced into an overflow room on the floor above.
     Planned Parenthood supporters stood outside a nearby Metro station and the other House office buildings, holding clipboards and asking passersby if they wanted to “stand with Planned Parenthood.”
     A group of men and women wearing pink Planned Parenthood T-shirts sat behind Richards in the hearing room, next to a group of women wearing shirts advocating the group’s defunding.

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