On Tuesday, September 29, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood of America, met with the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for over 4 ½ hours to answer their questions about Planned Parenthood’s organization, its use of tax-payers’ dollars, and its practices – at least, that’s what was supposed to happen. In reality, the Committee was on a witch hunt, seeking to vilify Ms. Richards with impassioned rhetoric, inaccurate statistics, and, in some cases, completely false information. Repeatedly, the Representatives that questioned her refused to allow her to speak or clarify her comments and instead spoke over her to further their own agenda. This was so prevalent that people have even spliced together compilation videos of every time she was interrupted. And, to be perfectly honest, this was not just a Republican or an anti-abortion tendency; even supporters like Representative Elijah Cummings were guilty of not allowing her to speak in favor of monologuing.
The hearing, which you can see here in all its 4 ½+ hour glory, is difficult to watch. Speakers talk down to Ms. Richards, they cut her off, they browbeat her, and they blatantly ignore what she has to say, which you can see from the erroneous takeaway, “Over the last decade, cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood are declining while abortions are increasing” (which came from an inaccurate chart Chairman Chaffetz used). They demand that she account for every dollar that her organization spends, despite the fact that they already have her accounts and should be asking the actual accountant these questions. They seem to think it’s inappropriate that the head of a major organization makes above $500,000 a year or that any executive would make above $200,000 a year – though analogous for-profit executives routinely make ten times (and more) that amount. They seem to think that Planned Parenthood doesn’t have to right to use its funds any way it sees fit and repeatedly ignore the fact that the federal government reimburses Planned Parenthood for essential services. They are not simply given $500 million every year but instead are reimbursed for line-item pieces at the end of the fiscal year. And, so long as those line-item pieces are legal and consistent with what the federal government will reimburse an organization (which they always are), the federal government doesn’t get a say on how much the organization spends on travel, if it has overseas programs, or how much its employees make.
If the purpose of the hearing was to discuss Planned Parenthood’s mismanagement of funds (which investigations in various states repeatedly show is not the case), that’s what the hearing should have been about. It should not have ended with Chairman Chaffetz showing an inaccurate and ethically wrong chart (which he then inserted in the takeaway). It shouldn’t have started with his personal anecdote about his mother and then accusing Planned Parenthood of essentially killing her. Representative Jordan shouldn’t have been allowed to browbeat, insult, and accuse her for five minutes. Congressmen and women should have let her speak. That wasn’t the case.
Now, I will admit that I thought some of her answers were weak. I would like an accounting of various expenses such as entertainment – though not as an American taxpayer. Rather, as a nonprofit worker and private donor, I would like to be sure that such expenses constitute a very small percentage of their budget and are not unduly increasing every year (which they probably do). I would also be interested to learn where Representative Lummis got her 86% revenue/abortion expenses number (though I suspect this is another misread). So, no, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to make sure an organization is using its funds faithfully and well. What I do think is inappropriate is having a hearing to determine that but never reading the supporting documents, never letting the witness speak, and deliberately and flagrantly stating false information as fact.
And also? #IStillStandwithPlannedParenthood A bunch of lies and bullshit isn’t going to stop me. I hope it won’t stop you either.