Planned Parenthood to Conservatives in Congress: Stop Playing Politics With Women's Health

A Republican bill that would halt federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year could reduce health care access for about 390,000 people while saving taxpayers about $235 million, Congress' official authority on the budget said Wednesday.

The estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office comes as Republicans are pushing for the cut in the wake of videos that show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing how the group sometimes provides fetal tissue for medical research purposes.

The House plans a vote this week on legislation that would block Planned Parenthood's federal money for a year. Lawmakers could approve an amendment shifting the money to other women's health care providers. If approved, the savings would be expected to disappear and the number of people with diminished access to health care could well be lower than the budget office's figures.

Additionally, Wednesday, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, warned the federal government could actually shut down over the issue of Planned Parenthood's funding.

"The possibility of a shutdown is rising," Welch said. "We cannot govern this way."

A band of conservatives in Congress has said it will not support legislation financing the government unless that funding bill also blocks federal payments to Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers have to put money in place by October first to keep government running, and Welch said that process should not be held hostage by abortion opponents.

"I actually respect that they have a different point of view about abortion than I do," Welch told reporters. "I don't respect using, as a tactic, shutting down government."

The long-simmering clash between some Conservatives and Planned Parenthood boiled over this summer after the release of stealthily-recorded videos by a group called The Center for Medical Progress. That group questioned the ethics of Planned Parenthood for sometimes supplying tissue from aborted fetuses to medical researchers.

Four congressional committees have begun holding investigative hearings into the matter. One of the main questions they'll want answered pertains to any exchanges of money that might have taken place between abortion providers and fetal tissue brokers, and if there was any wrongdoing in that. Planned Parenthood has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Planned Parenthood has said the controversial videos were manipulated or had comments taken out of context to inflame their impact.

"This is all part of a political smear campaign against Planned Parenthood," Meagan Gallagher, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said Wednesday.

Gallagher said her health centers in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine do not engage in the practice of providing tissue for research at all. For her affiliate, Gallagher said only seven percent of appointments are abortion-related. Cancer screenings, birth control requests, or sexually-transmitted infection testing are much more common.

"We call on Congress to stop playing politics with women's health," Gallagher said.

Planned Parenthood receives about $500-million in federal funds nationwide, Gallagher said; mostly from Medicaid. But she noted that federal money specifically does not fund abortions.

Welch said GOP leaders in the House and Senate do not want to see another government shutdown, but Welch noted some members of the Republican caucuses are willing to go that route. The public mostly blamed Republicans in 2013 when a partial shutdown lasted 16 days after they tried dismantling President Obama's health care law in exchange for keeping agencies open.

"Having charged up the hill once and been shot down, why would you want to do that again?" said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., an ally of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "I'm pretty convinced we're not going to shut down the government."

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., has collected 31 signatures from conservative lawmakers pledging to oppose any bill funding government if it includes money for Planned Parenthood. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential contender, is circulating a comparable letter. Many of the other GOP presidential contenders are also urging Congress to slash Planned Parenthood's funds.

But GOP aides say Cruz has won little support among Senate Republicans. Congressional leaders' immediate problem is Mulvaney. If his group of 31 holds and Boehner wants to pass a bill preventing a shutdown and funding Planned Parenthood, he'd need Democratic votes.

"It is very ominous for a legislative body to allow a small minority to use, as a hostage, the entire budget of a country to get their way," Welch said.

If Congress does pass legislation that keeps government running, there still could be more fights ahead for Planned Parenthood, led by lawmakers who want to see it de-funded.

Welch praised Planned Parenthood of Northern New England for providing critical health care access to thousands of women in his state, many of whom are low or middle-income. Welch said those patients and others around the country need to maintain access to the care they receive from Planned Parenthood, which the organization said is the primary source of health care for many women.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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