POLITICS
08/14/2015 03:06 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

States Try To Dig Up Planned Parenthood Violations, Fail Miserably

Probes in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota have uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing.
Andrew Burton via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Planned Parenthood Federation of America stressed Friday that multiple investigations into its state affiliates have fallen flat, as the reproductive health organization battles allegations that it has illegally profited from fetal tissue donations for research.  

The investigations were launched after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, began releasing hidden-camera videos in July that supposedly depicted Planned Parenthood physicians and staff members discussing the sale of fetal parts. Conservatives and anti-abortion activists have argued that Planned Parenthood is illegally benefiting from the sales, but the health organization says that any associated fees are simply to cover the cost of processing, storage and transfer of the tissues for medical research, and that all donations are made voluntarily. Planned Parenthood has said the videos are misleading and heavily edited.

After the videos were released, Republican members of Congress announced plans to investigate the group, and Democrats blocked a vote in which conservatives would have tried to strip the organization of federal funds. A measure known as the Hyde Amendment already effectively bans federal funding of abortions, which means that any attempt to defund Planned Parenthood would simply kneecap the organization's ability to offer contraception, cancer screenings and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. 

A number of states followed Congress' lead, declaring investigations of their own. But many of those probes -- in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota -- have found area Planned Parenthood affiliates to be in full compliance with state laws and regulations.

“In every state where these investigations have concluded, officials have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement Friday. "We've said all along that Planned Parenthood follows all laws and has very high medical standards, and that's what every one of these investigations has found. This campaign by anti-abortion extremists is nothing less than a fraud, intended to deceive the public with patently false claims in order to pursue an extreme political agenda." 

Laguens added that while Planned Parenthood will continue to cooperate with any investigations, "the public does not want elected officials spending time and money looking into bogus claims that are just part of a political agenda." 

Probes in other states, like Arizona, Kansas, LouisianaMissouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas, are unlikely to reveal evidence of illegal tissue donation practices, since those states' Planned Parenthood centers either don't participate in a tissue donation program, don't even have a center actively performing abortions in the state or are barred by state law from donating tissues in the first place.

In Iowa, an investigation is underway to "ensure [Planned Parenthood] does not and will not ever fund abortions or operations related to abortion procedures," as Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) put it -- even though Branstad acknowledged in a statement that Medicaid hasn't reimbursed for the procedure in Iowa since 2013, and that Planned Parenthood does not receive state funds for abortions there.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Planned Parenthood and the state's health department are fighting over the correct interpretation of the state's definition of when the second trimester of a pregnancy begins. 

The Daily Signal, a website owned by the conservative Heritage Foundation, reported Thursday that even in cases where no illegal activity on the part of Planned Parenthood is found, "the suspicion of violation of the law can lead to termination or suspension of state dollars to Planned Parenthood and other service providers." 

Alabama and Louisiana have used that exact justification to block Medicaid funds from going toward any Planned Parenthood services, even though the organization doesn’t even perform abortions in Louisiana. Those moves provoked a warning from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the states may have broken federal law, since the Department of Health and Human Services has said that Medicaid beneficiaries must be able to obtain health services like family planning from any qualified provider.

While conservatives have focused on the allegations into fetal tissue donation practices, Planned Parenthood is asking that equal scrutiny be applied to the Center for Medical Progress, the group that filmed the controversial videos. Democrats have called for a federal investigation into the group, since it allegedly used fake forms of identification in the course of making the videos and appears to have deceived the IRS and its own donors as to its real mission. 

In the meantime, Americans still want to fund Planned Parenthood and the organization remains more popular than any of the Republican presidential candidates calling for its demise. 

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