US & World

Planned Parenthood, abortion and the budget fight

Planned Parenthood supporters participate in a rally on Capitol Hill on April 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. Anti-abortion activists also held a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood supporters participate in a rally on Capitol Hill on April 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. Anti-abortion activists also held a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Republicans portray Planned Parenthood as primarily focused on performing abortions and - intentionally or not - using American taxpayer dollars to do it.

Not so, say Democrats who counter that the group's 800-plus health centers nationwide provide an array of services, from screenings for cancer to testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion is just one of many procedures, and the law bars Planned Parenthood from using tax money for it.

In the budget maelstrom that threatened to partially shut the federal government Friday stood Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a 90-year-old organization now part of a decades-long congressional battle over abortion.

Republicans want any legislation keeping the government operating to bar federal dollars for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of abortions. They want to distribute the money to the states.

"The country is broke and the vast majority of Americans don't want tax dollars to take the life of unborn children," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., chairman of Republican Study Committee, told reporters in a conference call.

Democrats say they see a radical agenda against women's health, especially poor and low-income women, and won't allow it, even if that means shutting down the government.

"It is appalling that Republicans would hold our economic recovery hostage for a ransom of denying millions of women Pap tests, breast exams, and birth control," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. "It shows their top priority is not keeping our economic recovery on track - it is reviving divisive social issues."

Republican leaders say that's just not so. The question of a shutdown, they said Friday, is about a need for greater cuts in federal spending, not social issues including abortion.

Abortion nearly scuttled President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in the final hours of debate last March. A year later, the stakes are still high, the political rhetoric fierce and the claims in need of clarification.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., wrote last month that the legislative fight is "Big Abortion vs. American taxpayers."

Giving its version, Planned Parenthood said it performed about 330,000 abortions last year, 3 percent of its total health care services. The organization also said its doctors and nurses annually conduct 1 million screenings for cervical cancer, 830,000 breast exams and some 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases.

"It's an outrage to shut down the government over an extreme proposal that would deny millions of women Pap tests, breast cancer screenings and birth control," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "Attacking Planned Parenthood's preventive health care hurts women, does not cut the deficit or fix the economy, and must be stopped."

Nine of the Senate's Democratic women stood together at a midday Capitol Hill news conference vowing to stop the House GOP effort.

"This is an opportunity for the right wing in the House to really sock it to women," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.: "These women are a mighty line of defense against cutting Planned Parenthood."

The organization said it receives $363 million in federal funds, getting its money from both the Title X program and Medicaid. Title X provides grants for family planning and related health services under a law signed by Republican President Richard M. Nixon in December 1970.

Of the Title X money, Planned Parenthood gets about $70 million, some 25 percent of the $317 million in Title X spending. The organization's annual budget is $1.1 billion and includes individual donations.

Federal law bars Planned Parenthood from using tax dollars for abortion. In 1976, three years after the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment which bars the use of taxpayer funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

It annually is attached to the congressional spending bills.

But Republicans argue that often all the money ends up in the same account for the organizations.

"Come on," Jordan said, "Money is fungible. ... It's just common sense. We think that taxpayers understand this, particularly at a point in history when the country is broke."

No matter what the outcome, the fight over federal money for Planned Parenthood will continue. Once Congress resolves the budget for the current fiscal year, it must decide on spending for the next budget.

"We have a long history of pro-life protection being part of an appropriation debate," Jordan said.

© 2011 The Associated Press.