Planned Parenthood is using virtually every tool in its lobbying arsenal to defend against attacks from conservatives and anti-abortion activists.
Lawmakers will raise the stakes when Congress returns next week by threatening to defund the group through the federal appropriations process.
Planned Parenthood’s counter-offensive is widespread and varied and is unfolding inside and outside the Beltway. The group has been organizing rallies, flooding lawmakers’ town hall meetings, commissioning polls, shelling out six figures for television ads and hiring forensics experts to try to discredit undercover video footage that sparked the controversy.
The success of these lobbying efforts will be tested when Congress returns and must move a short-term spending bill to keep the government open. Some conservatives in both chambers are pushing to defund Planned Parenthood, even if a standoff with Democrats leads to a government shutdown.
“We are pursuing it in order to stop sending taxpayer’s money to a group that engages in activity that many people find abhorrent and repulsive,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who is among 18 members who have pledged to oppose a spending bill with Planned Parenthood funding, said in an email. “If we can do that while still funding the rest of the government, fine. If we cannot, and there is a lapse in appropriations, so be it.”
The controversy began when the Center for Medical Progress released the first of a series of undercover videos on July 14, showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing sharing aborted fetal tissue with researchers. Congressmen and lawmakers have since been on a tear trying to defund the group on a national and state level.
But Planned Parenthood is hoping its August maneuvering will stop the defunding effort in its tracks.
In West Virginia and Iowa this month, Planned Parenthood supporters flocked to town hall meetings to lobby Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WestVa.), the first Democratic senator to oppose funding Planned Parenthood, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is co-sponsoring legislation to defund the organization.
In New Mexico, an art installation titled, “Thank You, Planned Parenthood” is underway. In Utah, where governor Gary Herbert (R) wants to redirect Planned Parenthood federal funds to other health agencies, several hundred people rallied at the capitol in support of continued funding for the organization.
In New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where state officials or congressional representatives are pushing to halt the group’s funding — ads are airing on local television and cable stations. In those states, Planned Parenthood also commissioned polls that show low public support for legislators who want to shut down the government over the funding fight. Op-ed pieces are being sent to media outlets around the country.
“Millions of Americans rely on Planned Parenthood’s health centers for basic, reproductive health care each year — many of whom would have no where else to turn if they couldn’t turn to us,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the lobbying and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “When politicians threaten to cut off their care, they pay attention. We’ve already seen an outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood, and that’s only compounded now that members of Congress are home and speaking with their constituents.”
Planned Parenthood supporters have placed 62,000 phone calls to lawmakers, collected 900,000 signatures on #StandWithPP petitions, and gained 60,000 new Facebook supporters since July. Officials say donations to the organization are up, though they did not have a specific dollar figure, and some supporters are cheekily contributing in the name of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and other politicians advocating against Planned Parenthood.
And on Thursday, Planned Parenthood sent a report to Congress of an analysis by a research firm that found the videos were altered. The analysis was commissioned by the group and completed by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based firm that provides research and intelligence for corporations. The report was sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Planned Parenthood’s desperate, 11th-hour attempt to pay their hand-picked ‘experts’ to distract from the crimes documented on video is a complete failure,” David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, said in a statement Thursday.
Planned Parenthood declined to say how much the overall campaign is costing, but the television ads alone add up to at least $517,000, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political ad buys reported by television stations to the Federal Communications Commission. More than half of that, about $290,000, was spent on television ads airing in the Washington, D.C. region in late July, right before the Senate voted to block the GOP-led House bill to halt federal funds for Planned Parenthood.
It is illegal to sell fetal tissue for profit, but individuals can consent to donate tissue. Planned Parenthood has maintained that it does not sell fetal tissue for profit and that it has programs in three states — California, Washington and Oregon — where women can donate tissue following an abortion and that those programs comply with the law.
Last year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million in federal funding. By law, public funds cannot pay for abortions, but antiabortion groups say federal funding is indirectly subsidizing the procedures.
The videos have prompted congressional committees and several states to investigate Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices. The state probes that have been completed have not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing.
In Congress, House leaders are still debating how to address a push from many GOP members to defund the organization immediately. The initial plan was to channel members’ anger into a series of investigations and steer the party away from tying the issue to federal spending bills.
Boehner directed three committees to investigate the organization. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is looking into how Planned Parenthood uses federal dollars and whether any of that money has been used for illegal purposes; the Energy and Commerce panel is looking into how group handles fetal tissue with brokers and the Judiciary Committee is investigating how the Justice Department has handled the issue.
Those committees are expected to hold hearings in September, shortly after Congress returns from the August recess.
The last time Planned Parenthood mounted a similarly concerted effort to defend its services was in 2011, when Live Action — the anti-abortion group that Daleiden previously worked for — released undercover “sting” videos using actors posing as a pimp and a prostitute seeking services at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Jersey. An employee of the clinic appeared to advise the pair on how to obtain services for illegal immigrant prostitutes and sex workers as young as 14. The employee was fired shortly afterward.
Abortion services amount to 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services, according to the organization’s most recent annual report for 2013-14. The remaining 97 percent include women’s health services such as testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and cancer screening and prevention.