Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is a rarity, a Democrat who has admitted — in public — that he’s concerned about accusations of unlawful conduct at Planned Parenthood.
Earlier this week, he announced that he would investigate charges stemming from the release of two undercover videos, saying, “Regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, the questions raised by these videos require careful review.”
His statement lends a sprinkle of ideological balance to the politically lopsided reaction over whether Planned Parenthood’s fetal organ-donation program is running afoul of the law. But he’s also the exception that proves the rule.
As the outcry over Planned Parenthood enters its second week, Democrats remain tight-lipped even as House and Senate investigations pick up steam. Governors and attorneys general in eight states have now launched probes into the nonprofit group’s conduct on fetal organs taken from abortions.
On the presidential campaign trail, Republicans are intensifying the pressure on Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has yet to comment on the videos despite being a pro-choice advocate who last year received Planned Parenthood’s top honor, the PPFA Margaret Sanger Award.
“This is a terrible moment. And it is made even more terrible by the absolute deafening silence of the Democrat Party,” Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said in a video released Tuesday with six pro-life leaders.
“Democrats have always fought for a policy that says it is not a life until it leaves the hospital. Hillary Clinton has fought to preserve that policy,” Ms. Fiorina said. “And we now have a moment in this nation to take some real action here. We can decide finally to defund Planned Parenthood.”
After Mrs. Clinton denounced Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for signing a bill limiting abortions past 20 weeks, the age at which some studies have shown the fetus can feel pain, Mr. Walker fired back on Twitter with: “@HillaryClinton attacks me for protecting life after 5 months, but won’t condemn disgusting Planned Parenthood video.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, inadvertently highlighted the split Wednesday with the release of what she described as a “bipartisan” letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell calling on her to “cooperate with ongoing and future investigations into these questions.”
Forty-nine of the 50 senators who signed the letter are Republicans. Only one, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, is a Democrat.
A few Democrats did break their silence Wednesday with an attempt to divert attention from Planned Parenthood to The Center for Medical Progress, the pro-life group that released the two video interviews with Planned Parenthood officials after a three-year investigation.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, in response to questions from reporters Wednesday, repeated a Planned Parenthood talking point that the videos were “selectively edited”; the unedited footage from both videos has been released as well as shorter versions.
He also vouched for Planned Parenthood’s ethics, saying “they subscribe [to] and implement the highest ethical standards in carrying out their operations.”
Separately, four House Democrats from safe liberal seats — Reps. Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois, Zoe Lofgren of California and Jerrold Nadler and Yvette D. Clarke of New York — sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris in which they asked for federal and/or state probes into the center’s investigation.
The letter cites the center’s creation of a fake biologics company and use of phony identification to gain access to Planned Parenthood officials, and raises the question of whether the group violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act by recording Dr. Deborah Nucatola without her knowledge.
The Democrats describe the center’s probe as an “elaborate, multi-year scheme to impersonate corporate officials from a fake biologics company” that made public “portions of the video without her [Dr.] consent.”
David Daleiden, who headed the investigation, responded Wednesday by accusing Planned Parenthood of “trying to use the power of their political cronies to shut down free speech, to silence the freedom of the press, to persecute me and to save their half-a-billion in taxpayer money and avoid accountability to the law and the American people.”
Meanwhile, 11 GOP senators, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, called Tuesday for a Justice Department investigation into whether Planned Parenthood violated the law by “engaging in the transfer of fetal tissue for profit” or modifying “abortion techniques for the purpose of obtaining that tissue.”
At least two GOP members of Congress, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Diane Black, have introduced legislation to pull Planned Parenthood’s roughly $500 million in annual federal funding.
Ms. Black’s bill would impose a one-year moratorium during the congressional probe, while Mr. Paul’s amendment to the highway bill would permanently defund the organization.
Not surprisingly, the eight states now conducting investigations range from conservative-leaning to solidly red. In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback called Tuesday on the state Board of Healing Arts to “address the issue of sale of tissue and organs from the unborn in its inspections of Kansas medical offices.”
“We must remind ourselves and others that unborn children are just that — children — with certain inalienable rights that we must respect and protect,” Mr. Brownback said in a statement.
In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton rejected calls Tuesday from state legislators and the Minnesota Republican Party for an investigation, saying that the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics have said they do not engage in fetal organ donations.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no basis for an investigation at taxpayer expense into a private, nonprofit organization that has stated they don’t engage in those practices here in Minnesota,” Mr. Dayton said on KMSP-TV in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Republicans didn’t stop there, calling on Democratic Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to condemn Planned Parenthood’s “abhorrent and possibly illegal practices,” namely because she previously served as vice president for external affairs of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“Our Lt. Governor must condemn this ghoulish practice in the strongest way possible, assure Minnesotans this is not happening in our state, and support the proposal to take taxpayer money away from this obviously profit-driven industry,” said Janet Beihoffer, Republican National Committeewoman from Minnesota, in a statement.
States may regulate medical clinics such as those run by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health services, but their role in funding abortion clinics varies from state to state, and starts with Medicaid.
“Medicaid is a huge source of [Planned] revenue, and it is jointly funded by the federal and state governments,” said Anna Paprocki, attorney with Americans United for Life (AUL).
AUL attorney Mary Harned said 17 states also pay directly for “medically necessary” abortions or all those for women who qualify for Medicaid. In FY2010, those states spent $68 million on about 181,000 abortion procedures for low-income women.
“This number may increase now that at least 15 of these states have expanded Medicaid under the ACA (i.e., more women will qualify to have state government-funded abortion),” said Ms. Harned.