By Matt Hadro
US Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate Thursday to advance a measure allowing states to once more have the freedom to avoid funding Planned Parenthood clinics with federal “family planning” grants.
The vote was “a victory for all Americans who don’t want to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry and its ghoulish trafficking in aborted baby’s organs,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Thursday.
At issue is a rule created by the Obama administration last December which forbade states to withhold Title X “family planning” grants to Planned Parenthood clinics on account of the fact that they perform abortions. States had been instead looking to fund other health clinics.
On Thursday, the Senate was voting to advance a joint resolution of disapproval that already passed the House. It would cancel the HHS rule.
With Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) joining Democrats in opposing the repeal, the vote was evenly divided 50-50 before Pence broke the tie and voted for its advancement.
It was the “first abortion-related vote in the Senate” since 2015, according to the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.
“We are so grateful that Vice President Mike Pence, who began the battle to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion corporation when he was a Congressman, traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to cast the tie-breaking vote in defense of human dignity and babies lives,” Ferguson stated.
Back in December, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that states could only withhold Title X “family planning” funds from health centers if the clinics failed to adequately provide the range of services the funding was meant for, like contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and infertility treatments.
Thus, the fact that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider could not be the factor for states withholding Title X funds from their clinics.
According to Planned Parenthood’s most recent fiscal year report from 2014-15, the organization performed over 323,999 annual abortions. It received over $550 million in federal, state, and local funds in that year, or “government health services grants & reimbursements.”
The organization has drawn controversy for its role in the trade of fetal body parts from aborted babies, obtained by tissue harvesters and ultimately used for purposes like medical research.
The Center for Medical Progress had aired a series of undercover videos, starting in the summer of 2015, from conversations they had with Planned Parenthood officials. The videos showed doctors discussing prices for fetal tissue with actors posing as tissue harvesters.
The organization was investigated by states, but has not currently been charged for illegal sales of tissue – reimbursement at “reasonable” levels for expenses like operating costs is allowed by federal law. However, a House Select Investigative Panel released a report in January detailing some abuses within the organization.
For instance, Planned Parenthood officials had admitted that clinics had not followed the organization’s procedures on important matters like fetal tissue transfers or ensuring that abortion procedures were not illegally altered for the purpose of tissue harvesting.
Another investigative report released around the same time by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute showed that, according to federal audits, Planned Parenthood clinics had overbilled Medicaid reimbursements and other public health funds by a total of over $130 million.
In some cases in Nebraska and New York, public funds including Medicaid reimbursements had paid for abortion-related claims and services at Planned Parenthood clinics, according to audits.
States should be free to disperse Title X funds to clinics they believe provide true health care, especially in light of Planned Parenthood’s recent controversies, insisted Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
If the resolution is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, it would “undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” she stated.
“Never again will the federal government thwart efforts by states that – acting on the will of the people – want to fund real women’s health care, not abortion.”