Social & Domestic Issues

Calls for Planned Parenthood oversight hearings get louder

Denise Fairbanks was 16 years old when her father took her to the Planned Parenthood clinic in southwest Ohio for an abortion in 2004.

Her father gave his consent for the procedure, helped his daughter do the paperwork, and was by her side nearly every step of the way, according to court documents.

But when Planned Parenthood, which bills itself as “America’s most trusted provider of reproductive healthcare,” goes before a judge in May to defend its actions in this case, it won’t be for violating parental consent laws.

Instead, Planned Parenthood must tell the court why it did not report to police that she had been raped. According to the court complaint, Fairbanks said she had been repeatedly sexually abused by her father since she was 13 years old.

Fairbanks’ experience with Planned Parenthood is one of several cases now under scrutiny by a congressional panel that has begun a rare investigation of the nonprofit’s policies on notifying the police in cases of rape and incest, sex trafficking, and how it has handled billions of dollars in federal funding.

“There is evidence that shows Planned Parenthood is not keeping a strict financial accounting or complying with the law,” says Rep. Cliff Stearns, (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“There is also mounting evidence that, when dealing with young women who come in looking for abortions, if the woman was raped they are not reporting who did it to the state, which is the law,” Stearns said.

As a result of Planned Parenthood’s silence, Fairbanks’ father continued the abuse for nearly two more years, according to court documents. Planned Parenthood is disputing the account and the case is going to court.

“There is ample evidence to have a hearing,” Stearns said. “The next step is to show the American taxpayers how accurate they have been with their accounting, and in many cases have not been, and bring accountability to almost half a billion dollars (in yearly federal funds) and how it is being used.”

Stearns and his committee are examining recent reports compiled by several anti-abortion groups that detail these charges, and the committee has ordered Planned Parenthood to turn over numerous internal audits, with the intention of holding the first-ever oversight hearings on the controversial organization.

Sense of entitlement

“There is a jaw-dropping sense of entitlement that comes from Planned Parenthood’s corporate office — the sense that we the taxpayers owe them money no matter what they do,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which backs pro-life candidates seeking political office.

“We’re paying them $1 million a day to keep them going, so it’s time for a hearing,” Dannenfelser said.

Planned Parenthood is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that promotes itself as a defender of women’s rights and a leading healthcare provider offering medical services that are funded in part by private donations, federal grants and Medicaid.

Congress passes annual legislation known as the Hyde Amendment to block all federal funding to Planned Parenthood from being used for abortions. However, critics say that government funding for operational expenses allows Planned Parenthood to free up other financial resources that can be used to fund abortions and to lobby lawmakers to keep taxpayer dollars flowing into its coffers.

Planned Parenthood: Nearly $6 billion over 40 years

So how much has Planned Parenthood received over the years? The group reported $5.8 billion in government income from 1964 through 2010, according to Rita Diller, national director of American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood project (STOPP), a Christian organization dedicated to shutting down the organization.

STOPP compiled the financial information from Planned Parenthood’s annual reports and tax forms, and the figures include funding allocated to the group from federal and state grants and contracts.

Planned Parenthood did not disclose Medicaid reimbursements separate from other clinic income until 2010; so, the amount of those additional federal and state funds is not included in the $5.8 billion total calculated by STOPP. In addition to government funding, Planned Parenthood received $4.24 billion in corporate donations during that timespan, Diller said.

In the same 40-year period, Planned Parenthood reported total revenues of $16.7 billion from all sources and $987 million in funds left over after expenditures, Diller said.

An example of the funding breakdown from Planned Parenthood’s 2008-2009 annual report shows that of $363.2 million in government grants and contracts received, about $293 million came from Medicaid  reimbursements, according to factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The remainder came from another federal funding source called the Title X Family Planning Program.

Overbilling allegations

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), an organization dedicated to religious freedom, issued a report to Stearns on Feb. 6 detailing state audits that found significant Medicaid overpayments of nearly $8 million for family-planning and reproductive health services claims at Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York, California, Washington and Texas.

In addition, nearly 40 audits conducted by federal investigators of the family-planning programs found between $88 million and $99 million in overbilling.

The deception included fraudulent billing to government agencies for “services provided in connection with an abortion, illegal under federal law,” the ADF report said.

“Planned Parenthood’s primary motivation is to take advantage of overbilling opportunities to maximize its revenues in complex, well-funded federal and state programs that are understaffed and rely on the integrity of the provider for program compliance,” the ADF said.

Planned Parenthood’s defense

Planned Parenthood did not respond to requests for comment, but issued a press release in September responding directly to Stearns’ inquiry saying the congressman “put politics before lifesaving healthcare by launching what appears to be a politically motivated investigation.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America says it routinely works with government regulators and independent auditors to ensure compliance with regulations on federal funding. “Anytime an irregularity is discovered, it is taken seriously and handled swiftly and appropriately,” the statement said.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive healthcare services through 80 affiliates that operate 800 centers across the U.S., distributing contraceptives, offering testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and is the single largest provider of abortion in the United States.

Pro-life groups say Planned Parenthood is responsible for one out of four abortions performed in the United States, and that 54.5 million abortions have occurred since 1973.

Planned Parenthood spent $2 million last year alone to lobby lawmakers, while anti-abortion groups spent $495,000 to back defunding measures and other bills on Capitol Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

$1.7 million for Obama

Planned Parenthood is also one of President Barack Obama’s top political allies, and spent more than $1.7 million in the last election cycle to help elect Obama and support his fellow abortion rights Democrats, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.

The power of Planned Parenthood to quickly raise funds from the private sector was shown recently when the Susan G. Komen foundation tried to cut off $650,000 it gave the organization in grants because of the congressional and other state investigations.

The backlash from Planned Parenthood with a campaign to criticize the breast cancer group was swift, and resulted in the resignation of Karen Handel, Komen’s vice president of policy. As the uproar subsided, Planned Parenthood raised in a matter of days nearly $700,000 from non-government supporters to backfill the loss, and the Komen foundation restored Planned Parenthood’s grants for mammograms at limited clinics and referrals from other clinics.

“The fact they were able to raise money so quickly after Komen, indicates they already have enormous financial fundraising abilities and probably don’t need taxpayer dollars,” Stearns said.

The Komen grants were restored, without Planned Parenthood’s having to explain the congressional investigation and as several states continued their investigations into reported illegal practices by the abortion provider.

Investigations in various states

One such undercover sting was videotaped by a group called Live Action, a youth pro-life movement led by Lila Rose, and the tape was released in January 2011. The video showed an employee of Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey advising a man masquerading as a pimp how to obtain abortions for 14-year-old girls. The video prompted New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow to call for an investigation.

Americans United for Life (AUL), a pro-life law and policy organization that also provided to Stearns the findings of its own investigation, reported that Planned Parenthood of San Antonio was investigated in 2009 by the Texas Department of State Health Services for performing abortions without a license.

The criminal division of the IRS opened the books of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate in 2010, AUL reported. And, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and mid-Missouri are also under investigation for providing unlawful late-term abortions.

In 2005, Planned Parenthood Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota was found guilty by the Ramsey County District Court for ignoring state parental notice law, the AUL report continued. And numerous audits have uncovered improper billing practices at Planned Parenthood in San Diego, New York and Washington state.

“Are they so powerful that everyone is afraid to stand up to them and ask them for an accounting?” Stearns said.

“The fact that we have never done an audit or had any kind of oversight shows that Congress is reluctant to do this, yet they should have oversight like any other organization,” Stearns said.

Stearns opened his inquiry in September, and in a letter to Planned Parenthood announced that his committee was examining the group’s handling of federal funding and compliance with restrictions on funding of abortion, as well as its institutional practices and policies.

Stearns said Planned Parenthood is cooperating with his review, and turning over numerous internal audits and other documents he has requested.

What Congress can do

Congress and its committees have oversight power to examine how programs using government funds are being administered, at what cost, and whether officials are obeying the law, according to the Congressional Research Service. Congress has never conducted such hearings regarding Planned Parenthood, Stearns said.

Most recently, Congress has held oversight hearings on government loans to the failed solar panel company Solyndra, and also conducted hearings on ACORN that resulted in its loss of federal funding.

Stearns and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are still waiting to get the green light from House Republican leaders to move forward with formal hearings on Planned Parenthood.

In a Feb. 8 letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.), Blackburn said several former employees of Planned Parenthood have come forward to blow the whistle on the organization for notification failures and misuse of government funding.

“If Planned Parenthood is defrauding the Treasury to meet its abortion quota, then the American people deserve answers in an open and transparent series of congressional hearings,” Blackburn said. “Congress needs to take leadership now. House Republicans shouldn’t settle for inaction in the face of injustice.”

It is unclear whether Boehner will call for hearings. His office did not return calls for comment.

House Democrats attack

Meanwhile, House Democrats have launched a personal attack against Stearns and called his investigation an “unjustified assault” because of his continued support of defunding Planned Parenthood, most recently in 2011.

“It would be an abuse of the oversight process if you are now using the committee’s investigative powers to harass Planned Parenthood again,” said Representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Henry Waxman of California.

“Your fervent ideological opposition to Planned Parenthood does not justify launching this intrusive investigation,” the Democratic lawmakers said.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the 501(c)(4) political arm of the organization, has also attacked Stearns and is urging its supporters to sign a form letter to the lawmaker demanding that he abandon his “baseless investigation.”

“Your effort to discredit, damage and weaken Planned Parenthood will only harm the women and families who rely on Planned Parenthood health centers for essential preventive healthcare,” the form letter say. “Focusing on attacking Planned Parenthood when millions of women lack access to basic affordable healthcare just shows how far out of touch Congress is with Americans’ priorities.”

Dannenfelser said that the “louder Planned Parenthood screams ‘how dare you?’” the stronger anti-abortion groups see the need for congressional oversight.

“You can ignore an undercurrent, but you can’t ignore this tidal wave,” Dannenfelser said. “There’s no
question it’s past time for a hearing.”

When Denise Fairbanks gets her own hearing in a courtroom later this spring to confront Planned Parenthood and their negligence that allowed the sexual abuse by her father to continue, she will ask for $25,000 in damages for pain and suffering.

Fairbanks’ father has already had his hearing in a criminal courtroom, and was sentenced to five years in prison for molesting his daughter.

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