Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, testified before Congress on Tuesday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing aimed at discontinuing federal tax funding for Planned Parenthood. The hearing — just one arm of the GOP’s coordinated attack on Planned Parenthood — ended up revealing a lot more about the Republican Party than the organization they were trying to discredit.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the hearing:
Republicans don’t even understand the funding system they are trying to destroy
Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) kicked off the hearing with a tearful opening statement, explaining that the loss of both his parents to cancer was caused, indirectly, by the fact that Planned Parenthood received federal funding. Chaffetz suggested that if the government were not to provide funding for Planned Parenthood, it could spend more on cancer research — and thus his parents’ lives could have been saved. Many GOP committee members also made mention of the dollar amount Planned Parenthood received from the government last year, and then raised questions about the use of those funds by the organization, with nearly every Republican who spoke repeating the false claim that Planned Parenthood funding is “fungible”. Richards explained just as frequently, that no federal tax dollars are ever used for abortion care, as specified by the federal Hyde Amendment.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) pointed out the GOP’s faulty logic, noting: “Republicans have been saying that Planned Parenthood receives half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds. They make it sound as if the federal government writes a check to Planned Parenthood each year.”
But in reality, the vast majority of funding that Planned Parenthood receives yearly — approximately $400 million, or 80 percent of their annual public funding — comes from reimbursements for individual health services under Medicaid and Title X services. That’s how the distribution of funds works in these programs — the organization provides the services, and the government reimburses them for the specific services they’ve provided. As Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) attempted to explain to her colleagues at one point, there would be no federal funding received if these services weren’t utilized. Think about it like this: Let’s say your employer sends you on a trip and says they will reimburse you for airfare, hotel, and car rental fees but not restaurant meals; and when you file for reimbursement, you have to provide receipts for your expenses. There is no lump sum of money, and reimbursements are itemized. So if you try to submit a receipt for a restaurant meal, your employer is going to reject that request for reimbursement. In the same way, Planned Parenthood is only reimbursed for the health care services that they have already provided and that are covered by Title X and Medicaid — and abortion is not one of those services.
Many on the committee also took issue with Ms. Richards’ salary; it was just over $300,000 in 2009 and just over $500,000 in 2013. The committee members asked how Planned Parenthood could be in need of federal funding when they have a CEO with a six-figure salary. Not only does this question again indicate a complete failure to understand the very simple fact that Planned Parenthood is not handed a lump sum of money from the government, but as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) pointed out, it also highlighted the committee’s concern with the salary of a woman executive despite their never having questioned male CEOs compensation package in any hearing regarding any for-profit corporation led by the very same committee.
Republicans are clueless about women’s health care
Throughout the hearing, Republican committee members remained strangely fixated on women’s breasts, repeatedly questioning how Planned Parenthood could possibly claim to do breast cancer screenings when none of their clinics have ownership of a mammogram machine. They considered this a killer “gotcha” line, for some reason, even though all it did was reveal the ignorance of those doing the questioning.
To begin with, mammography is not the first step in a breast cancer screening; breast exams come first. And women need a place to go to receive those exams before they can be referred for mammography. So Planned Parenthood fills the role of a woman’s primary care physician or ob/gyn. When a breast exam is performed and the results indicate the need for follow-up evaluation, like a mammogram, the provider — in this case, a Planned Parenthood physician — refers the woman to a radiologist to administer the mammogram and then continues to serve as her point of contact for the management of her cancer treatment. No ob/gyn or primary care physician performs mammograms in-house, and neither does Planned Parenthood. That’s just not how breast screenings work.
What Planned Parenthood does do is assess, evaluate, refer and ensure that their patients can be seen by partner providers who are able to offer mammograms and cancer treatment services at reduced or subsidized rates to make sure that these women — many of whom would not be able to see a doctor if not for her use of Planned Parenthood as her Medicaid or Title X provider — continue to get the medical care they need.
Even more importantly, this line of questioning revealed just how little Republicans actually know about the role of Planned Parenthood as a women’s health care provider and the women who rely on them for care. Planned Parenthood is a family planning clinic focused on sexual and reproductive health care: STI tests, sex education, contraception and other services to make it easier for sexually active people — mostly premenopausal women who have not reached the age (50 years-old) at which mammography screening is recommended — to have a healthy sex life, and to make informed, healthy decisions about reproduction. Breasts, while apparently the favored anatomical region of many a Republican Congressman, are not really part of Planned Parenthood’s core agenda.
But as we learned, Republicans don’t really understand what Planned Parenthood does and why their services can’t be replaced by other community health centers, which explains why they kept repeating the myth that defunding Planned Parenthood would not impact women’s access to health care. In reality, however, we already know that’s patently untrue. Of the 6.7 million women who rely on Title X programs to pay for contraceptives, 2.4 million of them — 36 percent — do so at a Planned Parenthood clinic. On average, each Planned Parenthood clinic serves 2,950 birth control patients per year, compared with just 750 seen at public health centers and 330 at federally qualified health centers. “To put it another way,” writes Vox’s Sarah Kliff, “Planned Parenthood clinics comprise only 10 percent of publicly funded contraceptive clinics — but see 36 percent of patients who use the government birth control programs.” Moreover, half of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in rural or underserved areas, often where there are no other sexual health providers for hundreds of miles.
Republicans (still) can’t do basic math
Across nearly every line of questioning, Republicans betrayed not only a nakedly partisan agenda to punish Planned Parenthood and their patients by withdrawing financial support, but also a baffling inability to do basic math — or at least to do it honestly.
In his opening remarks, Chaffetz said it was clear to him, from poring over Planned Parenthood’s finances, that funding the agency is a wasteful use of federal dollars. “As far as I can tell, this is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidies,” Chaffetz said, citing his concern over “wasting those taxpayer dollars.”
But if Chaffetz cared about taxpayer money, and if has the ability to count, he would know that defunding Planned Parenthood is the last thing he’d want to do. According to the latest figures, every $1.00 invested in publicly funded family services saves taxpayers more than $7.00, mostly by reducing future Medicaid spending on unintended pregnancies and births, which tend to have worse outcomes (leading to higher medical costs). The Congressional Budget Office estimated just last week that ending federal subsidies to Planned Parenthood would cost the government $130 million in new annual expenditures. Not exactly a money-saving scheme, though Chaffetz isn’t exactly a stickler for the facts — as we witnessed in another memorable moment during Tuesday’s hearing.
While grilling Richards, Chaffetz displayed a graph titled “Abortions Up — Life-Saving Procedures Down,” in an attempt to visually demonstrate that Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services have been dramatically overtaken by abortion. Ms. Richards questioned the slide, telling Chaffetz that she had never seen it before and that it did not represent “what is going on at Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide,” at which point Chaffetz accused her of lying about her organization’s own data. “I pulled the numbers directly from your corporate reports,” Chaffetz said. Here’s the slide he presented and claimed to have created himself:
But in fact, as Ms. Richards noted, the graph was actually created by the anti-abortion group Americans United For Life, which has been petitioning Congress to defund Planned Parenthood since at least 2011. That’s not the only problem here, though. Look at the graph: There is no proportion — each line behaves according to its own scale. A rise in the number of abortions from 289,750 to 327,000 (an increase of 13 percent) is illustrated as a sharp red line surging upwards, while a 53 percent decline in the number of preventative services is represented by an almost identical inverted slope. Even worse, the lines intersect one another: The line representing the number of “cancer screenings and prevention services” (colored pink — a cute touch), is seen being overtaken by the red line representing a supposed surge in abortions in the same seven-year period. The effect is that somehow 327,000 becomes a bigger number than 935,000.
“Check your sources,” Ms. Richards told Chaffetz, who responded by mumbling something about “looking into” the origins of the slide — despite the obvious AUL credits printed on the slide — before turning off his mic to avoid further embarrassment.
Here’s what that graph should actually look like, if Chaffetz had not intentionally tried to misrepresent the numbers:
But wait, there’s more! As Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) pointed out during the hearing, in addition to wildly distorting the data, Chaffetz also conveniently forgot to mention the fact that the number of breast screenings and mammograms has fallen nationwide — across all providers — due to changes in medical guidelines that recommend less-frequent screenings. And as mentioned previously, the emphasis on breasts here is not only strange, but misleading. Breast exams are just one of the many preventive services provided by Planned Parenthood — and a look at the *real* data shows a very different story than the one presented in the slide. By making it appear as if Planned Parenthood’s preventive services are limited to breast exams and mammography referrals, Republicans are ignoring the millions of additional preventive services that were provided at Planned Parenthood clinics. For example, while the number of breast exams and mammography referrals declined to just under a million, the number of STI screenings and treatments increased from 3 million in 2006 to 4.5 million in 2013. And that’s not even looking at contraceptives, family planning, sex education, vaccinations, and other services provided by Planned Parenthood. So contrary to the story that Republicans told, “the number of non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood barely changed at all during that time period, going from 10.29 million in 2006 to 10.26 million in 2013,” Vox reports.
Here’s the most accurate visual display of the services provided by Planned Parenthood:
Republicans are masters of misogyny, mansplaining, and manterruptions
While Republicans may be clueless when it comes to health care, government funding, and super-complicated mathematical concepts like counting, they showed on Tuesday that they are experts in at least one area: unbridled misogyny. This was apparent in nearly everything that was said and done during the hearing, from the physical image of the male committee and their stunningly disrespectful treatment of Richards, to their laughable attempts to mansplain women’s health care needs, and the slut-shaming narrative that dominated their questioning.
From the very beginning of the hearing, it was clear that the Republican lawmakers who had demanded that Planned Parenthood executives answer for “alleged atrocities” were not actually interested in getting any answers at all. In fact, several committee members went out of their way to actively prevent Ms. Richards from even having the opportunity to give them the answers they were supposedly looking for. Chaffetz was particularly aggressive in his efforts to keep Ms. Richards from getting a word in edgewise. At one point, he asked Ms. Richards a question about whether any of Planned Parenthood’s funds ever went to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which she responded “Congressman, let me tell you —” before he cut her off, saying “we don’t have time for a big narrative.” This continued throughout the duration of Chaffetz’s questioning, which mostly consisted of him making false allegations and then interrupting Ms. Richards before she could correct the record. And then came Republican Roy Cohn, a congressman from Ohio, who interrupted the head of Planned Parenthood no less than 19 times in five short minutes of the hearing.
As mentioned previously, Republicans also spent a great deal of time discussing Ms. Richards’ salary, a topic that you may notice has nothing to do with either taxpayer funding for health care or fetal tissue research. While questioning Ms. Richards about her own pay, Chaffetz noted that her salary was $353,000 in 2009 (“Congratulations,” he added) and then, with a raised eyebrow, said that it had increased to $590,000 in 2013. Ms. Richards corrected him (again) on the numbers, noting that her annual compensation is $520,000.
At this point, Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, took the time to explain exactly why the Republican vendetta against Planned Parenthood and Ms. Richards was so hypocritical and wreaking of misogyny. Citigroup and JP Morgan pled guilty this year to currency manipulation, he said, yet those banks continued to receive “extensive federal support” like F.D.I.C. insurance. Congress never summoned their C.E.O.s for questioning on their salaries, $13 million and $20 million respectively. Nor did Congress seek to withdraw federal funding from Lockheed Martin, whose chief executive made $33 million last year, after the company was fined for using taxpayer money for lobbying.
“These are huge companies that are actually guilty of breaking the law,” said Mr. Cummings. “Republicans never criticize the salaries of their C.E.O.s, and they never try to strip their federal funding, their government subsidies or their tax breaks.”
Why the intense focus on the activities of an organization that hasn’t broken the law, and on the compensation of someone who makes a fraction of what the executives of Lockheed Martin and JP Morgan take home? Mr. Cummings’s answer: “This whole defunding fight is just a pretext for the real Republican agenda” — to “take away the constitutional right of women and their doctors to decide what is best for them.”
And it’s not just any women’s health care that the GOP is targeting here, as they made clear in their unrelenting focus on breast exams and mammograms. As Amanda Marcotte explains in Talking Points Memo, Republicans’ obsession with mammograms “belies the real agenda here, which has nothing to do with ‘fetal body parts’ or even abortion, but with delegitimizing health care that exists so that people, particularly women, can have healthy and safe sex lives. The implication was clear: Mammograms are real health care, and all those other services—contraception, STI testing and treatment, Pap smears—are not. After all, virgins can get breast cancer, but you aren’t going to get the clap or an unintended pregnancy if you don’t have sex.” She continues:
Ultimately, we don’t need to look further than the policy proposals themselves, which make it all the more obvious that sexual health care is the GOP’s true target. The funding being debated is for Pap smears, contraception, and STI testing and treatment. All this talk about fetal tissue and videos and Cecile Richards’ salary is simply a distraction from what this is really about, which is that women are having sex and Republicans would very much like for them to cut it out.
This point was best exemplified by Republican congressman Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, who took the opportunity to mansplain to women why we’re wrong when we say that Planned Parenthood is essential for our health care. “When I look at cities around me that have a Planned Parenthood clinic,” Grothman of Wisconsin argued during the hearing, “usually in those cities, as a guy, I could go to many clinics locally that have all the machines that one would need. All these clinics as far as I know take Medicaid dollars, so you could go to any of those clinics to get any medical service you could.” In case you didn’t get the true meaning behind Grothman’s “as a guy” remark, he continued: “I guess what I’m getting at is if Planned Parenthood disappeared tomorrow in those towns, there would still be three or four or five clinics or hospitals providing all the… medical care you would want.”
All the medical care you would want, unless you have a vagina, that is.
Republicans really aren’t interested in the truth
Let’s take a step back here and remember why Republicans called for Tuesday’s hearing. The entire premise of this witch-hunt investigation is based upon a series of illegally-recorded undercover videos made by an anti-abortion group. A forensic analysis of the videos found they are so egregiously manipulated that they would never be accepted as evidence in a court of law. And yet they have been accepted as fact by every member of the entire Republican Party, who are apparently totally fine with lying to voters and wasting public time and taxpayer money to fulfill their own partisan goals.
As Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said of his Republican colleagues, “I just think it’s so irresponsible to use this type of material — false material, inaccurate, misleading videos — to make any case at what is supposed to be a legislative hearing. Yet Republicans are openly ignoring the mounting evidence that the videos are fake and continuing to legislate based on them.”
And it’s not just congressional Republicans who are guilty of legislating based on patently false information. State GOP lawmakers have also targeted Planned Parenthood funding and launched investigations into the organization, with some Republican lawmakers even going as far as preemptively defunding the organization (a move that legal scholars agree is illegal). So far, every single one of those investigations has cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. But in Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott wasn’t satisfied when his investigation failed to dig up any evidence against the organization, so he took it upon himself to revise the press release of the findings by removing any mention of the fact that Planned Parenthood had been cleared by the evidence.
Then, when Republicans called on the head of Planned Parenthood to appear as a witness in a congressional hearing to “get to the truth”, they used that time to present information that they had intentionally manipulated to distort the true story. And despite their supposed eagerness to “get to the truth,” Republicans wasted most of the hearing on questions entirely unrelated to either fetal tissue research or public funding for Planned Parenthood — and then failed to let their key witness actually answer their questions. After all, if Ms. Richards spoke for too long, she might expose the truth that Republicans obviously don’t want you to hear: That Planned Parenthood is an upstanding health care organization with the overwhelming support of the American public.