In July, a pro-life organization called The Center For Medical Progress released videos it claimed showed Planned Parenthood doctors supporting the “sale of baby body parts,” according to the center’s website. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, took up a defense of her organization against attacks by congressional representatives at a hearing on Sept. 29. After reviewing coverage of the hearing, I had to physically calm myself down — take deep breaths, count to 10, take a walk through the IC. I was frustrated, bewildered, angry, disappointed and concerned.
As Matt Boey reported in the Sept. 30 edition of The Phoenix, Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides sexual and reproductive health services, including the operation of 17 health centers in Illinois. The organization was at the center of the most recent government shutdown drama, when members of the Republican Party threatened to stop funding the government if Planned Parenthood continued to receive federal money.
When Boey wrote about the shutdown, he argued that Republicans, particularly presidential candidates Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, were putting poll numbers ahead of actual leadership. Watching the hearings, I think Boey is right — but more than anything else, I’m worried congressional Republicans aren’t even taking the time to inform themselves on basic facts about what Planned Parenthood does.
The manner in which these representatives interviewed Richards is appalling and completely out of line. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio spent his allotted five minutes asking Richards why she apologized after the first video was released, but he hardly let her answer, instead interrupting and talking over her any time she tried to speak.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, called out his colleagues for this “intimidation,” calling it disrespectful and misogynistic.
When interviewing people they disagree with, congressional representatives should not sound like children throwing tantrums. Basic respect is something that should be the standard in a formal setting such as a congressional hearing, but in this case, the conservative agenda against Planned Parenthood was apparently more important than treating Richards decently.
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz chaired the hearing. At one point during the proceedings, he presented a slide that seemed to indicate that the number of abortion procedures completed through Planned Parenthood was increasing while the number of cancer screenings was decreasing. Richards claimed no knowledge of the information on the slide. Chaffetz said he “pulled those numbers directly” from Planned Parenthood’s corporate reports.
“Oh, excuse me, my lawyer’s informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United For Life, which is an anti-abortion group, so I would check your source,” Richards replied.
This is absolutely unacceptable. I am concerned the people we elect to represent us do not take the time, or even have the initiative, to research correct information about the topics they are discussing. How can our representatives accurately vouch for their constituents when they treat their own agendas as more important than the truth?
The arguments against Planned Parenthood seem to be based on ideology, not facts, and this ideology seems to be so important to some Republicans that they use patently false information in order to defend it. It is pointless to pretend like you know what is best for the people of the United States — especially women — if you do not care enough to do real research on their actual experiences. At that point, there is no way to know what’s best, because you’re just making things up.
At other points during the hearing, many representatives attacked Planned Parenthood for not providing mammograms. But Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Michigan, hit the nail on the head when it was her turn to speak. She clarified that there was no need for anyone to blame Planned Parenthood for not providing mammograms, because a specialist provides those, not general practitioners.
“So I wish those who would sit here to ask those questions would actually have the sensitivity to understand what a woman goes through with her health care,” Lawrence said. “That would allow us to ask more pertinent questions.”
Lawrence also emphasized that no federal dollars are spent on abortions — as many people claimed— and that the money given to Planned Parenthood is, in fact, reimbursement.
Her frustration was apparent.
“I just, for the life of me, sitting here today, I know my colleagues are more intelligent than this, and it is exhausting to hear just a philosophy of attack, to just use information that is totally incorrect,” she said.
I believe our government is capable of great things. I believe our potential for positive change is limitless as we move closer to fulfilling our promise of liberty and justice for all. But we will never reach our potential if we have a Congress that belligerently defends flawed ideologies with no basis in fact. As a woman, I want the people who make the rules about my health care to be as knowledgeable as possible on the subject instead of catering to a specific crowd with false information. At that point, they’re not representatives. They’re ideological puppets.
House Republicans voted last Wednesday to create a committee to investigate practices surrounding abortion and the handling of fetal tissue, so the fiasco continues. Is it too much to ask for a Congress that is committed to serving the citizens of the United States with dignity and truth? The Congress that argued against Planned Parenthood makes me think, at least right now, that it is.
I want my representation back.
Elizabeth Czapski is a contributing columnist.