Planned Parenthood's leader clashed with House Republicans on Tuesday as she defended her organization's ethics and the legality of its work during an emotional hearing on Capitol Hill over its use of federal funds.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, insisted the organization had not broken the law, an accusation it faced after embarrassing undercover video surfaced this summer that showed executives nonchalantly discussing the donation of fetal tissue to researchers.
She fought back against allegations that Planned Parenthood profits from such donations, noting that it provides an array of healthcare services. Any charges for procuring the fetal tissue merely cover its costs, the organization says. Federal law bans the sale of fetal tissue for profit.
"Planned Parenthood has been in the news recently because of deceptively edited videos released by a group that is dedicated to making abortion illegal in this country," Richards said. "This is just the most recent in a long line of discredited attacks."
Conservative Republicans have criticized the organization over the videos, which were produced by the Center for Medical Progress, an Irvine-based antiabortion group. The videos were made surreptitiously over about 2 1/2 years and released this summer.
Some lawmakers have advocated shutting down the federal government rather than budgeting any money for Planned Parenthood. The organization receives about $500 million a year in federal funds, which Richards says is used primarily to pay for birth control, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted infections. She said just 1% of the health centers in Planned Parenthood's network facilitate donations for fetal tissue research.
Federal law prohibits using federal money for abortion except to save the woman's life or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
The hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began with its chairman, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, emotionally recounting his parents' fights against cancer, as well as his wife's work with women recovering from breast cancer.
Chaffetz attacked Planned Parenthood for what he contended were reductions in cancer screenings and breast exams. And he alleged that it spent heavily on six-figure executive salaries, travel expenses, "blowout" parties with celebrities and political activities. Richards, he said, earns $590,000 a year.
"Does this organization, Planned Parenthood, really need federal subsidy?" he said.
Richards said her organization, like most medical care providers, accepts Medicaid payments to provide care for low-income women.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, attacked the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden. Cummings called the videos part of a campaign of "deceit."
"Mr. Daleiden's goal for the past three years was to entrap Planned Parenthood into selling fetal tissue for profit," Cummings said.
Daleiden was not invited to testify before the committee. Chaffetz said he had sought to subpoena the full, unedited videos, but litigation in California had prevented their release.
On Friday, Daleiden told a conference of social conservatives: "To anyone who would say that these videos don't show Planned Parenthood corporately engaged in federal-level felonies, I would just say you're not listening hard enough."
But a pair of new surveys shows that Republicans' criticism has served only to shore up support for Planned Parenthood, making it more popular than the GOP itself.
"The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law, and once again our opponents have failed," Richards said at the hearing.
Planned Parenthood has launched a social media campaign in response to the videos in an effort to correct misinformation and rally support.
Before the hearing began, abortion foes protested outside. Demonstrators from the Christian Defense Coalition and other groups wore pink tape that read "Life" across their mouths and carried signs that said, "We don't need to speak ... Planned Parenthood has said enough." They called on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and demanded more action from Republicans.
"We're not interested in more hearings," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. "We know who Planned Parenthood is, we know what they are and we know what they've done."
Meanwhile, a small army of Planned Parenthood volunteers stood guard at each entrance to the hearing site in the Capitol complex. Wearing pink T-shirts and carrying clipboards, they urged supporters to show solidarity.