The three states that recently denied taxpayers’ money to Planned Parenthood affiliates likely will be followed by others as public pressure mounts on governors and other state officials, regardless of whether Congress votes to defund the nation’s leading abortion provider.
Defunding on the state level—as in Alabama, Louisiana, and New Hampshire—may not be as sharp a blow to Planned Parenthood as loss of half a billion dollars a year from the federal government, a lawyer for a prominent opponent told The Daily Signal.
But, he said, the action allows state taxpayers and legislatures to express their disapproval of the harvesting of body parts from aborted babies depicted in an ongoing series of undercover videos this summer—and to prod federal officials.
“These state leaders are providing a model to Washington, D.C., of what people in their states are wanting done and how it can be done,” Casey Mattox, a senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in an interview.
Mattox said the Christian legal advocacy group detects an upsurge in public awareness that state officials control whether Planned Parenthood affiliates receive certain Medicaid payments as well as Title X “family planning” funds and Title V “maternal and child health” grants.
“There is more political will to act than on the federal level,” Mattox said, “and they control the state taxpayer dollars.”
Congress is expected to reconsider whether to strip Planned Parenthood of more than $500 million a year in funding, which includes some state money, when it returns after Labor Day from August recess. Senate action Aug. 3 fell short of the required 60 votes.
Meanwhile, most state legislatures aren’t in session for the summer, so governors may not yet feel the heat from constituents as expressed through lawmakers.
It’s hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes in a lot of governors’ offices, but I think any state should be looking very hard at whether it wants to continue state or federal support for an organization that appears to be acting in a way that is in violation of federal law and, frankly, has a long history of being engaged in questionable legal activity—whether Medicaid fraud questions or the sale of baby body parts.
Louisiana and 12 other states began investigations of their Planned Parenthood affiliates in the wake of hidden-camera videos in which top medical officials of the organization appear to discuss the sale of body parts from aborted babies.
Making a profit from the sale of fetal organs, limbs, or other tissue is prohibited by federal law. Officials with Planned Parenthood Federation of America have insisted that the videos distort perfectly legitimate discussions of covering the costs of donating and transporting aborted babies or body parts to outside researchers with the mothers’ permission. Such donations are not against the law.
In some of the videos, produced undercover by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood doctors and researchers appear to indicate a willingness to alter abortion procedures to yield specimens that are intact. Such changes raise legal issues.
“Planned Parenthood is an expert at finding and keeping taxpayer dollars. They receive Medicaid reimbursements, Title X funding, and block grants—through federal, state, and local funding streams,” Mallory Quigley, spokeswoman for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told The Daily Signal.
Quigley, who called the state actions “encouraging,” added:
Moving forward, we will be looking to state pro-life groups and state legislators, particularly members of our National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus, to see where more advances can be made to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level. Our state allies know best how Planned Parenthood is accessing taxpayer funding in their state and the best means of rerouting those funds to comprehensive health care clinics that do not provide abortion.
Since the pro-life Center for Medical Progress began releasing the videos, national Planned Parenthood officials consistently have denied that affiliates sell organs and other body parts of aborted babies for profit. They have called the videos the “heavily edited” work of “extremists.”
The Daily Signal asked the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for comment on the state-level actions, although the national organization had not replied by publication time.
A representative of one of the group’s allies, Guttmacher Institute, however, told the Christian Science Monitor that it expects “more attacks at the state level on family planning funding.”
Elizabeth Nash, an authority on state issues at the health policy group, said some politicians “will use this whole issue as a way to further scrutinize abortion providers, and Planned Parenthood specifically.”
Republican governors are in office in all but one of the 13 states that have undertaken probes of Planned Parenthood: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Kansas, Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana. Missouri’s Jay Nixon is a Democrat.
In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad ordered state officials to confirm that no taxpayer money goes to Planned Parenthood for abortions. But pro-life activists are pushing Branstad to “defund, investigate, and when necessary, prosecute,” as Bob Vander Plaats wrote Saturday in the Des Moines Register.
“All Iowans and all Americans should take note of who is leading on this issue,” Vander Plaats, president of the Iowa-based Christian group Family Leader, wrote in a commentary.
In Florida, investigators last week concluded that none of the organization’s 16 clinics were illegally selling or transferring limbs, organs, or other tissue from aborted babies. They did find, though, that one clinic had not properly documented disposal of remains after abortions, and three clinics improperly performed second-trimester abortions.
On July 30, investigators in Indiana cleared Planned Parenthood facilities that perform abortions of any wrongdoing in handling aborted babies.
Even the suspicion of violation of the law can lead to termination or suspension of state dollars to Planned Parenthood and other service providers, Mattox said.
In some states where Planned Parenthood has lost a top perch as a medical service provider, he noted, the Obama administration has sought to thwart state officials by funneling Title X dollars directly to the affiliates.
“From the perspective of some of these states,” Mattox said, “at least the state itself is not involved in that process.”
In one such case, involving a $1 million federal grant to a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Hampshire, ADF on Monday sought an explanation and release of documents from the Obama administration by going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, acted to defund Planned Parenthood three years ago, could be the scene of more cuts if the governor and state legislature target Title X funds as well.
“Gov. Walker finds the recently released videos of Planned Parenthood disturbing and abhorrent, and he will work with members of the state legislature to pass legislation to ban these practices in Wisconsin and address concerns about this organization,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told The Daily Signal on Tuesday.
Walker, she said, “supports additional changes to Wisconsin law to restrict federal funds that flow to Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood has some 665 clinics and other facilities across the nation, with at least one location in each state. The District of Columbia is currently without a clinic, but one is under construction and the organization sends patients to Maryland and Virginia clinics.
Although the organization insists abortion makes up only about 3 percent of its activities, opponents question those statistics and contend that, regardless, Planned Parenthood is responsible for more than 333,000 abortions a year.
By law, no federal tax dollars sent to Planned Parenthood are to be used to provide abortions.
Pro-life advocates argue that more than 9,000 health centers nationwide that meet federal standards already provide other health care services for low-income women and others in need.
“I would expect that many other states will be looking at whether taxpayers should continue to fund Planned Parenthood in their states,” said Mattox, the ADF senior counsel, adding:
I think this is just the beginning of what I expect will be a wave of decisions among states, particularly as state taxpayers are just waking up to the fact that they can defund Planned Parenthood at the state level.
Although Planned Parenthood affiliates are almost certain to sue, he added, “I believe the states will be on firm footing to defund.”
Of the three states that stopped funding after the videos surfaced, only New Hampshire has a Democratic governor.
Twenty other states headed by Republican governors have yet to take any new action as a result of the videos. In 13, Republicans also control both houses of the legislature. Nebraska has a one-chamber, non-partisan legislature.
Democratic governors head 18 other states, and the party controls both branches of the legislature in seven of those.
Democrats hold the governor’s office and both legislative branches in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. They occupy the governor’s seat but no more than one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, New Hampshire and nine other states—Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
This story has been modified.