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Videos reignite debate over federal funding for care provider

Anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the state Capitol in Santa Fe on July 28 to demand an investigation into Planned Parenthood after the release of videos showing officials of the group discussing the sale of fetal organs. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the state Capitol in Santa Fe on July 28 to demand an investigation into Planned Parenthood after the release of videos showing officials of the group discussing the sale of fetal organs. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

WASHINGTON – An anti-abortion group’s secretly filmed videos of Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the sale of fetal organs and other body parts have ignited a long-smoldering debate on Capitol Hill over federal funding for the national women’s health care provider, and potentially could lead to another government shutdown in the fall.

The Senate last week narrowly blocked a Republican attempt to strip Planned Parenthood – the nation’s largest abortion provider – of more than $500 million in federal funding, but the House could take up the issue in September just ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline for funding the federal government. Some Republicans in Congress – including Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. – have threatened to oppose routine spending bills to keep the government operational if they contain funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Senate bill that failed last week would have shifted money from Planned Parenthood to other women’s health care providers.

Pearce and other Republicans point to the videos – one in which a high-ranking Planned Parenthood doctor appears to haggle over prices for fetal tissue and jokingly says she wants a Lamborghini sports car – as evidence of the group’s “inhumane practices.” Pearce also said the videos indicate illegal activity. Under federal law, abortion providers can’t sell fetal tissue, but they can transfer it for purposes of medical research. Abortion providers are permitted to recover the cost of processing and shipping the tissue, although those costs are not specified or capped in law.

“These videos reveal shocking and horrific practices,” Pearce, the New Mexico delegation’s lone Republican, told the Journal. “They document partial birth abortion, altering abortion procedures on women to harvest baby parts, and selling organs. Aside from clearly describing these immoral activities, they also point to potential criminal activity. It’s not only time to investigate these inhumane practices for violations of federal law, but ultimately to end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood’s operations.”

New Mexico delegation Democrats contend the edited videos — secretly filmed by people working undercover for an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress — don’t tell the whole story. They argue the videos are part of a disingenuous strategy to discredit Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s largest women’s health care providers, and strip it of federal funding. All four Democrats in New Mexico’s delegation oppose blocking federal spending on Planned Parenthood.

“The Department of Justice is reviewing this situation, and I look forward to its findings, as it appears the video has been significantly edited and distorted,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Late last month, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the Center for Medical Progress from releasing additional videos, saying they violate a California law that bans recording people without their knowledge.

The Center for Medical Progress says complete videos of the excerpts they have released are available online for people to make their own judgment about whether they were improperly edited.

Pearce sponsors bill

Pearce has co-sponsored a House bill to strip Planned Parenthood of the roughly $500 million in federal funding it receives each year and divert the money to other women’s health groups that don’t provide abortions.

Asked whether Pearce would shut down the government over the funding issue, Pearce’s spokesman on Tuesday suggested the best way to ensure the government remains open is to divert federal money from Planned Parenthood.

“The only people talking about a shutdown are those who want to avoid talking about these horrific procedures involving the sale of body parts belonging to dead children,” said Pearce spokesman Tom Intorcio.

Although Republicans control a narrowly divided Senate, they could not muster the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster of legislation to defund Planned Parenthood on Monday.

In a statement issued to the Journal, Planned Parenthood of New Mexico emphasized the wide-ranging nature of the health services it provides.

“Planned Parenthood offers essential health care throughout New Mexico and we are pleased to continue this proud tradition of service,” the statement said, noting that it provides cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, breast health services, pap tests and health counseling. “We also provide high quality and compassionate care for women seeking safe and legal abortion. ”

Democrats fight back

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., denounced what she saw in the Center for Medical Progress videos, but also said Planned Parenthood is too valuable a resource to women to cast aside.

“The tone and language used in the videos was reprehensible, but the videos are being used in a politically motivated attempt to discredit an organization that provides critical women’s health services, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with abortion,” Lujan Grisham said. “I continue to support federal investment in a wide range of health services for women and families, including cervical and breast cancer screenings, as well as primary care services.”

New Mexico’s U.S. senators, both Democrats, would not comment on the contents of the Center for Medical Progress videos. But both senators, through spokeswomen, characterized the videos as an effort to undermine health care for American women.

“The bottom line is that women’s health care services are being exploited for political gain in the Senate by a Republican presidential candidate and others,” said Jennifer Talhelm, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall. “The issue before the Senate is whether women should continue to be able to access lifesaving health care and preventive services, and Sen. Udall isn’t going to allow health care to be cut off for thousands of women in New Mexico.”

In a statement, Heinrich said: “This all too familiar attack on women jeopardizes the health and well-being of millions of Americans who rely on these basic services each year.”

Protests planned

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement last week urging New Mexico’s political and government leaders to “be vigilant that these practices of the sale of fetal tissue do not happen in New Mexico.”

Planned Parenthood of New Mexico says none of its clinics that perform abortions collects fetal tissue or organs for medical research.

“We reach out to all who have participated in an abortion and may be experiencing trauma from the discovery that the remains of their aborted child may have been desecrated,” the bishops said. “We welcome you to our Roman Catholic parishes throughout New Mexico and encourage you to use the services offered at the parish level, diocesan level, and other Catholic social services.”

On Aug. 22, more than 40 anti-abortion organizations across the nation will join together for protests. Protest ABQ will co-lead the Albuquerque protest with Father Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life at Planned Parenthood’s offices at 701 San Mateo NE, said Tara Shaver, the group’s spokeswoman.

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