The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee is examining the policies and practices of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its 83 affiliates. A Sept. 15 letter from Rep. Cliff Stearns, R.-Fla., to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards that sought information about the organization's use of federal funds and compliance with federal law was made public Sept. 27.
In the letter, Stearns asked Richards to provide audits, documentation, policies and procedures regarding such issues as improper billing, segregation of federal funds from abortion services and reporting of suspected sex abuse and human trafficking. Stearns is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which is under the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Planned Parenthood and some congressional allies criticized Stearns' action, but pro-life advocates welcomed the news.
"I can think of very few organizations that are more deserving of a thorough federal investigation than Planned Parenthood," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "How they spend approximately $363 million in taxpayer money annually is certainly a legitimate subject for congressional oversight and concern. This anti-life organization with a nefarious eugenics and racist past should not be getting any government funding period. But as long as they are getting government funding, they should be the subject of aggressive congressional scrutiny."
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life (AUL), said the request for Planned Parenthood's records is "a historic first step in getting the American taxpayer out of the business of subsidizing abortion."
Lila Rose, president of the youthful, pro-life organization Live Action, described Stearns' letter as "essential to protecting victims of abuse, our young girls, and our unborn brothers and sisters."
AUL and Live Action both have conducted their own investigations into Planned Parenthood.
In a 181-page report released in July, AUL documented known and alleged abuses by Planned Parenthood over a 20-year period and called on Congress to investigate it for misuse of government funds and circumvention of state laws.
Live Action's undercover investigations in recent years have disclosed a variety of unsavory practices in Planned Parenthood clinics. This year, a hidden-camera sting in several states showed Planned Parenthood employees demonstrating a willingness to aid self-professed sex traffickers whose prostitutes supposedly were in their early teens.
The congressional investigation targets an organization that received more than $363 million in government grants and contracts from federal, state and local sources in 2008-09. While Planned Parenthood's affiliates provide contraceptives and some health-care services, their abortion advocacy especially has elicited opposition.
Planned Parenthood's number of abortions and share of the abortion market has increased as government funding has increased over the years. Planned Parenthood's affiliates performed more than 332,000 abortions in 2009. While Planned Parenthood's annual abortion totals have grown, the number of abortions in the United States has decreased by about one-fourth since 1990. Planned Parenthood signaled last year its apparent intention to continue to increase its abortion business when it issued a requirement that each of its affiliates have at least one clinic performing the procedure by 2013.
In his letter, Stearns' requests of Richards included:
-- Internal audits dating to 1998 that reveal incidents of improper billing in such federal programs as Medicaid and Title X family planning;
-- State audits of Planned Parenthood A since 1991;
-- Documentation that confirms Planned Parenthood and its affiliates are not using federal money to underwrite abortion;
-- An explanation of how funding for family planning is kept separate from money for abortion services;
-- Policies and procedures that guarantee Planned Parenthood clinics report all suspected cases of sexual abuse, including statutory rape, to authorities;
-- Guidelines at Planned Parenthood and its affiliates that make certain possible sex trafficking is reported to public officials.
Richards charged Stearns with putting politics before health care.
"We are confident that any fair-minded person will see through this politically motivated investigation, the purpose of which appears to be undermining access to care," Richards said in a written statement. "As people learn about this latest attack on their health care provider, they will speak out and stand with us to protect access to health care for women and families."
In a Sept. 27 letter to Stearns, leading Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee criticized him for making a "sweeping and invasive request" of Planned Parenthood.
"Your fervent ideological opposition to Planned Parenthood does not justify launching this intrusive investigation," said California Rep. Henry Waxman, the lead Democrat on the committee, and Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
"We are committed to strong congressional oversight. But we are opposed to investigations that appear to be designed to harass and shut down an organization simply because Republicans disagree with the work that it does."
Stearns supported Republican-led efforts this year to defund Planned Parenthood. The House twice passed legislation to eliminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood, but the attempts failed in the Senate.
States also have acted in 2011 to strip Planned Parenthood of funds. Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin all have acted to rescind the organization of state money.
In its July report, AUL said some Planned Parenthood affiliates are guilty of such transgressions as overbilling the Medicaid program and failing to abide by state laws requiring parental involvement before performing abortions on minors.
Based on Planned Parenthood figures, abortion accounted for at least $114.9 million of the $404.9 million Planned Parenthood reported as "clinic income" in 2008-9, according to AUL. Abortion has provided an increasing percentage of Planned Parenthood's clinic income in the last decade, AUL reported: 32 percent in 2001; 33 percent in 2006, and 37 percent in 2009.
AUL's report also showed Planned Parenthood's affiliates performed 340 abortions for every adoption referral in 2009 and had barely 7,000 patients who received prenatal care.
Other secret investigations by pro-life organizations have uncovered Planned Parenthood workers seeking to cover up alleged child sex abuse and agreeing to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies.
Planned Parenthood's critics also have cited the organization's offensive roots. Margaret Sanger, who founded in 1916 an organization that became Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist who promoted the elimination of the "unfit," normally the disabled and poor. Foes of Planned Parenthood have pointed to the organization's tendency to locate abortion clinics in or near minority neighborhoods.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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