House votes to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood

Greg Nash

The House on Friday voted along party lines to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood after weeks of escalating tension surrounding its use of fetal tissue.

In a 241-187 vote, nearly all Republicans and two Democrats approved legislation that would block Planned Parenthood’s federal funding for one year, giving time for Congress to fully investigate claims of wrongdoing by the provider.

{mosads}Lawmakers also passed a bill tightening restrictions on abortion doctors who violate infant protections in a 248-177 vote.

“What we’ve learned about Planned Parenthood is appalling, barbaric and indefensible,” Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) said. 

Three Republicans broke ranks to vote against the funding freeze: Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). The Democrats voting to defund were Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who are both opposed to abortion rights.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voted “present,” objecting that the measure would allow Planned Parenthood to perform abortion in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is at risk.

An official with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund ripped the vote as a “callous attempt to insert politics into women’s heath.”

“Millions of Americans rely on Planned Parenthood for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and other critical preventive care, and nothing that politicians in Congress did today will change the fact that our doors remain open to everyone, in every part of this country, who needs high-quality, compassionate reproductive health care,” said Eric Ferrero, the action fund’s vice president of communications.

The House vote represents the first time that congressional Republicans have approved legislation to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of this summer’s undercover video controversy. The vote is largely symbolic, as Democrats are expected to block the bill in the Senate.

Cutting off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding would result in a net savings of $235 million over a decade, according to a report this week by the Congressional Budget Office. It would also cut off access for as many as 600,000 patients, resulting in “several thousand” unplanned births.

House GOP leaders hope the legislation will help avert a government shutdown by appeasing the dozens of conservatives who have pledged to defund Planned Parenthood at all costs. Lawmakers have five legislative days left to pass a spending bill and stop the shutdown that GOP leadership is aggressively working to avoid.

The vote is unlikely to placate conservatives, however. Thirty-one members are still vowing not to vote for any spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that includes Planned Parenthood funds.

King said Friday’s action “is not a sufficient vote to defund Planned Parenthood.”

“I expect much stronger language than this in the CR coming up in the next few weeks,” King said. “Innocent, unborn babies deserve more than just a show vote.”

Conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) has said standalone defunding votes, even with the fast-track process of reconciliation to get through the Senate, are not good enough.

“Unless it’s tied to must-pass legislation, there’s no chance of success,” he said. “Everybody knows that.”

Democrats are seizing on the growing risk of a second GOP-led shutdown in two years. A half dozen House Democrats took to the floor Friday blasting the abortion bills.

“The Republicans just want to shut the government down if we don’t fund Planned Parenthood. That’s what they’re all about,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

GOP supporters of the bill sought to distance it from the politically toxic topic of a shutdown. “We are not on a bill about a government shutdown,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said as she managed the floor debate.

“Most people think that this is common sense. If there is reason to investigate, then there is reason to withhold taxpayer dollars during that period of time,” Blackburn said. “There is bipartisan opposition from men and women to this practice.”

Republicans spoke at length about allegations that Planned Parenthood has been “harvesting” fetal organs on the floor, while Democrats sought to rebut them.

“No wrongdoing was shown. There’s no criminal charges, there’s no charges at all, pending against Planned Parenthood,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Col.) said.

Minutes later, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Calif.), accused a Republican colleague of making “a complete falsehood” on the floor.

“Planned Parenthood does not sell any body parts for profit. That is a fact,” she said.

The bills passed after several hours of emotional floor speeches that included graphic descriptions of botched abortions and comparisons to the convicted abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

“I am getting emotional here because it is an emotional issue for me,” said. Rep Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who said he delivered more than 3,000 babies in his 30 years as an obstetrician.

Republicans also highlighted the veto threats by the Obama administration, which has condemned the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Federal officials have said Obama would veto an expansion of the born-alive protection bill.

“When you saw the president come out yesterday and say he would veto this bill, how extreme can someone be?” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. “This should be a place where we can all come together.”

Democrats said the proposed changes to the born-alive protection bill are overly broad, and intended to intimidate abortion providers out of practice.

“It is already illegal to fail to provide care to an infant born alive,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif) said. “What this bill does is to vilify abortion providers.”

— Peter Sullivan contributed. This story was last updated at 3:40 p.m.

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