Sunday, September 20, 2015

House votes to defund Planned Parenthood

The House voted Friday to block hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics from getting federal funds for one year, a vote that was meant to deliver a strong rebuke to the country's largest abortion provider, and also help avert a government shutdown.

The measure passed 241-187 Friday morning with the support of just two Democrats, and three Republicans voted against it. It would halt roughly $500 million in federal funds, mostly through Medicaid and family planning dollars, to nearly 700 Planned Parenthood clinics around the country, unless the chain of women's health clinics agrees to stop offering the procedure.

It's similar to a bill Senate Republicans attempted to hold a vote on last month, although that one didn't set a one-year time limit and it explicitly clarified that federal funds would be made available to community health providers instead.

House Republicans were also joined by five Democrats Friday to pass a separate measure from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., which would let states strip Medicaid funds from health providers suspected of violating a 2002 law extending legal protection to an infant born alive after a botched abortion. That bill passed 248-177.

The White House has said it would veto both bills.

The Planned Parenthood defunding measures were prompted by undercover footage from anti-abortion investigator David Daleiden highlighting how some of its clinics supply aborted fetal tissue to human tissue companies. The videos have sparked outrage among abortion opponents and reinvigorated efforts to strip the group of federal funds.

"Some of my colleagues have tried to dismiss these videos even without ever watching them," said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., the bill's sponsor. "I did watch these videos and I saw full conversations of Planned Parenthood employees in their own words discussing potentially law-breaking activities."

The videos don't prove Planned Parenthood broke any laws, but they do raise questions. Republicans, who are probing the group through congressional investigations, insist there's enough uncertainty to defund the group immediately, and the bill is designed to stop funds while congressional committees investigate.

"There are more than enough lingering questions to stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to this abortion giant until this work is complete," Black said.

Republican anger is so great that many say they won't support a bill to fully fund the government unless it prohibits Planned Parenthood from any federal dollars. The House could vote on a government funding bill by next week.

By holding the stand-alone vote this week, Republican leaders bought themselves some time to resolve their intra-party, conservative-led dispute on whether some will insist on additional defunding language in the funding bill.

After Friday's House votes, the Planned Parenthood fight will move to the Senate, which is expected next week to consider a spending bill with a defunding measure attached, although Republicans admit they'll almost certainly fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass it. Then the major question will be whether Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers can negotiate a spending bill if conservatives don't give any ground.

House Democrats were outraged by the Friday vote, and defended Planned Parenthood's work providing non-abortion healthcare services to poor women. They also accused Republicans of pushing the issue to shut down the government.

"Let's not continue this deception," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "The Republicans just want to shut the government down if we don't defund Planned Parenthood, that's what this is all about."

Planned Parenthood is already prohibited by federal law from using taxpayer dollars on most abortion services, and half of its clinics don't perform abortions at all. But Republicans say that's a minor distinction since federal funding is the group's largest pot of money.

Abortion-themed debates are typically highly charged in Congress, but lawmakers appeared especially at odds Friday, as they bashed each other for their respective positions.

"We are seeing shamelessness here on the floor today," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

"I will never be ashamed of standing up to defend life, ever," replied Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

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