This article originally appeared online at Politico on February 16, 2011.
Mike Pence’s war on Planned Parenthood
By Sarah Kliff
Abortion-rights advocates and abortion-rights opponents don’t see eye to eye on much, but they do agree on this: Nobody hates Planned Parenthood quite as much as Mike Pence.
The Indiana Republican is on a one-man crusade to deny all federal funding to the group — not just the money it gets for reproductive health and family planning services, but every penny it gets for anything.
“If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions,” Pence told POLITICO in an interview Tuesday. “As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them.”
For three legislative sessions in a row, Pence has introduced legislation that would prevent any entity that provides abortion from receiving funds through Title X, the only federal program dedicated to reproductive health and family planning.
This week, Pence went even further, introducing an amendment to the continuing resolution that would strip Planned Parenthood — and Planned Parenthood alone — of all federal funding.
Pence’s latest maneuver comes at an inopportune time for many in the Republican Party.
Some GOP leaders — including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — have urged their party to downplay hot-button social issues in order to win over moderate voters ahead of the 2012 presidential race. Others, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have said House Republicans must focus on creating jobs and cutting spending.
But Pence’s unyielding anti-abortion stance has made him a favorite of social conservatives, many of whom were hoping he’d run for president in 2012. He says he won’t, and that he may run for governor in Indiana instead.
In the meantime, his goal is clear: Starve Planned Parenthood of cash so that it will have no choice but to stop performing abortions.
“I am interested in doing what we can, in the balance of this fiscal year, to end public funding of Planned Parenthood, specifically,” Pence said.
Activists on both sides of the abortion debate tell POLITICO they’ve never seen a legislator pursue Planned Parenthood with such a single-minded focus.
“He’s the only one I know of who has been so completely obsessed with Planned Parenthood,” said the group’s president, Cecile Richards. “This just seems to be an enormous focus of his.”
“He’s both a true believer and a policy wonk,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the leading anti-abortion organizations. “He understands that Planned Parenthood is the fulcrum of the abortion movement.”
For years now, Planned Parenthood has received a significant portion of the money awarded through Title X, which can pay for pelvic exams, breast exams, safer-sex counseling and basic infertility counseling, among other things.
Planned Parenthood estimates it received a quarter of the $317 million in Title X funds appropriated last year. A third of its budget came from government grants in 2009, according to the organization’s 2008-2009 annual report.
Title X money can’t be used to pay for abortions, and Pence does not allege that Planned Parenthood has improperly used Title X funds to do so.
But Planned Parenthood performed 328,300 abortions in 2008, which would account for about a quarter of the 1.21 million abortions that year, according to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute. And those abortions made up 3 percent of the patient services that Planned Parenthood offered in 2008.
Pence says that, by taking away Planned Parenthood’s federal money, the government could eliminate the group’s ability to operate abortion clinics entirely. “We should end the day when the largest abortion provider is the largest recipient of [Title X] federal funding,” he said.
“What’s clear to me, if you follow the money, you can actually take the funding supports out of abortion. We then have a much better opportunity to move forward to be a society that says yes to life.”
Pence first went after Planned Parenthood’s public funding in 2007.
“What was apparent to me then was there was some unwritten agreement that we had arrived at, an unstated truce between pro-abortion and pro-life legislators that the debate would happen within certain parameters and over certain appropriations riders,” he said. “When we introduced this, it was a completely different element in the equation.”
The legislation ultimately failed, but Pence doggedly stuck with the issue. He reintroduced the legislation last session and commissioned a GAO report on how HHS spends Title X funding.
He campaigned on the issue in 2010, sending an e-mail to supporters saying: “I’m ready to deliver … legislation that will prevent abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving a single dime from the federal government.”
Now, he’s closer to success than ever before. Shortly after he introduced his legislation in January, the anti-abortion group Live Action released a series of “sting” videos, including one that they say showed a Planned Parenthood employee advising minors to provide false information in order to obtain an abortion. The employee was later fired, and Planned Parenthood also claimed the material had been deceptively edited to cast the group in a bad light.
Live Action, alongside the Susan B. Anthony List, recently launched a new Website, Expose Planned Parenthood, dedicated to promoting Pence’s legislation.
So far, Pence’s legislation to bar Title X funding for abortion providers has accrued 164 co-sponsors and the promise of a hearing from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood and its supporters on the Hill have mobilized furiously against the bill.
“This is absolutely an all-out assault now,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told POLITICO. She organized a 100-representative letter to Boehner denouncing the Pence legislation. “[Pence] is going after Planned Parenthood for the same reason that we’re defending it: its importance. Planned Parenthood has the brand for these kinds of clinics.”
About two-dozen Planned Parenthood CEOs and clinics have been in Washington lobbying on the importance of Planned Parenthood and Title X. Planned Parenthood has logged more than 11,000 phone calls from its supporters to members of Congress.
Abortion-rights supporters worry that, while stand-alone abortion restrictions may not have a chance in the Senate, provisions added to a must-pass continuing resolution could slip through.
And Pence’s amendment looms alongside another hit to reproductive health funds: The continuing resolution itself, as currently written, would wipe out Title X funds all together.
“Since it’s a base bill, I’m very concerned that it might stay there,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “I’m concerned that some of these restrictions on reproductive health are going to whip through Congress and people aren’t going to see it coming.”
Pence’s continuing resolution amendment will likely receive a vote by Thursday. Even if it does not become law, he’ll likely push forward undeterred.
“Let the abortion providers provide for themselves,” Pence says. “I’d like to continue to be a persistent, respectful voice for the sanctity of life.”