WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s two Democratic senators aggressively pushed back on Monday against Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, with U.S. Sen. Al Franken calling it a “preposterous” idea that would only gut women’s health care.
The U.S. Senate ultimately voted 53 to 46 to kill the proposal to strip federal funding from the organization that uses federal dollars for cancer screenings, birth control and reproductive care.
Planned Parenthood also performs abortions, but federal law already prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding them.
The issue has boiled over on Capitol Hill after a handful of unflattering videos shot by an anti-abortion group leaked over the past two months, showing Planned Parenthood executives carelessly discussing the transport of fetal tissue from abortions. The anti-abortion advocates secretly recording them were posing as representatives of a company interested in purchasing fetal tissue.
The controversy over the fate of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding — Minnesota’s 18 clinics receive between $2.6 million and $2.8 million a year — has become a centerpiece on the Republican presidential campaign trail and among members of Congress returning home for the August recess.
Some Republicans have even threatened to tie defunding Planned Parenthood to funding the federal government this fall. This raises the specter of another government shutdown, since President Obama has said he vehemently opposes efforts to defund the organization.
“I agree that Congress needs to look into these actions,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who didn’t address tying Planned Parenthood cash with funding the federal government. “This is about protecting the rights of the unborn and investigating the circumstances and legality surrounding the abhorrent actions by this organization.”
On the Senate floor on Monday, Franken said efforts to defund an organization whose mission is to provide birth control — which reduces abortions — made no sense.
“It’s no secret that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are part and parcel to make safe and legal abortion in this country more difficult to access,” Franken said. “Some of the physicians caught on tape did not treat the issue … with the appropriate level of sensitivity, and I was glad to see the president of Planned Parenthood apologize for those remarks.”
Klobuchar said she voted against defunding the organization because of the 65,000 women in Minnesota who visited the clinics last year “for everything from cancer screenings to primary care to contraception.”
North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Catholic, also voted against the defunding measure. “Let’s talk about facts. Under law, no federal funds can be used for abortion, and I’ll make sure it stays that way,” Heitkamp said. “As a breast cancer survivor, I understand the importance of preventive care to helping avert and treat cancer.”
Though none of Minnesota’s Planned Parenthood clinics collect fetal tissue for transplantation research, state Republicans have tried to push the national controversy into the face of Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, because she was formerly in senior management with Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
“It’s a pretty simple thing to condemn what is going on,” said state Republican Party chairman Keith Downey, who said he didn’t know anything about Monday’s vote. “I think it’s beyond the pale when we have someone that high in the state … not saying anything.”
But Smith on Monday defended Planned Parenthood, saying she would never condemn an organization that furnishes affordable health care for millions of women nationwide. “I’m proud of the work they do,” she said.
She called the videotapes “secretly recorded and heavily edited,” and characterized them as a political attack.
The state GOP called on Franken and Democratic Rep. Tim Walz to return campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood’s political arm. Neither member’s office commented on that.
Last year, roughly 65,000 people in Minnesota received care, and of those, 30,000 accessed Planned Parenthood using federal dollars. Patients getting abortions do not have the option of donating fetal tissue, but regional Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Jen Aulwes said patients on a “weekly basis” request if there is any way to donate tissue.
“We support our affiliates that do have those [donation programs] in place,” Aulwes said. “They do it with the full consent of the women. It’s important for science.”