For the past nine months, Republicans in Congress have belied their promise to help grow the economy and foster job creation that they claimed was their highest priority during the 2010 midterm elections. Indeed, Republicans have spent every minute of the 112th Congress cutting spending and reducing the deficit that neither helps the economy or creates jobs. One of Republicans’ primary spending cut targets has been Planned Parenthood; not because cutting funding for it helps the economy, but because conservative Christians decided they get to make choices for women regarding their reproductive health. The movement to eliminate Planned Parenthood began in earnest with Republicans’ first round of budget cuts because House Speaker John Boehner said it was the American people’s highest priority.
The Republicans have tried every tactic to defund Planned Parenthood including lying to the public by claiming Federal funds were used for abortion services. One Republican claimed that 95% of Planned Parenthood’s services were for abortions even though the figure is nearer to 3%; not one penny of Federal money can be spent for abortions. Now, there is a new tactic in the fight to defund and eliminate Planned Parenthood; harassment and intimidation. The perpetrator is Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and he sent a letter to Planned Parenthood announcing his committee started an “investigation” of Planned Parenthood demanding they hand over financial and other records from every Planned Parenthood health center.
Stearns did not give all the details of his committee’s investigation, but one can imagine that the committee will conduct an audit of financial records to make sure no Federal money was spent on abortion services. It is unfortunate that at a time when 15% of the population is living in poverty and millions of Americans are unemployed, Stearns feels auditing Planned Parenthood is a worthwhile venture. Stearns demanded some records going back 13 to 20 years and he is looking for anything to cast aspersion on Planned Parenthood so Republicans can discredit, destroy, or damage the organization. The demand for financial records, although suspicious, is not the most troublesome aspect of the committee’s investigation; it is the demand for “other records” that should raise an alarm.
Planned Parenthood provides many services for women and men including cancer screenings, counseling and family planning services, and contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies that restricts the number of abortions. It is not clear what “other records” means, but because there are medical procedures and personnel involved in Planned Parenthood’s services, one can assume that Stearns is asking for patient’s personal medical records regarding abortions, prescriptions for contraceptives, or cancer screenings. If Stearns’ committee is looking at patient’s medical records, any man or woman who has used Planned Parenthood’s services should be mortified. There are several nightmare scenarios possible if conservative Christians get their hands on private medical records regarding reproductive health.
Does Stearns intend to publish the names and addresses of every woman who has had an abortion or used birth control? The anti-choice crowd cannot be underestimated and based on their contemptible record of using any means to restrict women’s access to birth control or abortion services, it would not surprise anyone if they threatened to expose patient information to damage Planned Parenthood. Will the committee or an underling leak sensitive medical information or records to send a message to potential patients that their privacy cannot be protected or guaranteed? There is a reason the investigation demanded “other records,” and besides financial records, there are only medical professional’s information and patients’ medical records and they are not relevant to a financial audit.
There are myriad reasons to be suspicious of any investigation into Planned Parenthood by Republicans, and the least is the demand for financial and other records. Republicans are doing the bidding of Christian extremists who have launched an all-out war on contraceptives, abortions, and women’s right to choose their own reproductive health and one would think that after nine months, Republicans would have gotten the message that Americans appreciate, use, and need an organization like Planned Parenthood to provide important services. The fanatical Christians have demonstrated that no tactic is too extreme to achieve their goals and releasing patient’s medical records, although extreme, are not as vile as calling for the murder of abortion providers. Will Stearns’ committee release the names of physicians who provide abortion services or will they just publicize a list of women who have had abortions in the past 13 years? Nothing is out of bounds where Christian crusaders are concerned and just the prospect of releasing medical records will have devastating effects on the public’s confidence that their personal medical history may be exposed.
It is more likely that Stearns is on a fishing expedition to find some anomaly in Planned Parenthood’s financial records that will give Republicans added reasons to defund or eliminate the organization. However, Stearns is not to be trusted because he gets information from Americans United for Life (AUL) that claimed Planned Parenthood advised how to obtain an abortion for a 14-year-old girl. Stearns told a conservative news outlet that there are “egregious abuses of taxpayer funds,” and that “The American people deserve a concrete reason for funding Planned Parenthood; a reason I do not believe (exists).” Stearns is conducting a vendetta for the right-to-life crowd and his investigation amounts to harassment for political and religious reasons. It is unfortunate, but when Christian extremists get to provide a Congressional committee with fallacious evidence, bad outcomes are a certainty. The anti-abortion group that provided Stearns with information AUL included in its report said they applaud Stearns for holding Planned Parenthood accountable for “their on-going abusive activity that endangers women, the victims of abuse and young girls.”
If Stearns is convinced that a valued organization like Planned Parenthood really endangers women and young girls, then it is not a stretch to think he will use any means necessary to destroy them, and releasing records, any records, to his committee is a tragedy waiting to happen. Stearns is abusing his authority, harassing and intimidating Planned Parenthood, and spending valuable time and resources instead of helping the economy and creating jobs. However, Stearns does not work for the American people; he works for Christian extremists who use any means to punish women, especially poor women for wanting to choose their own reproductive health, get cancer screenings, contraceptives, and counseling for family planning that Christian-crusaders oppose. Apparently the economy does not matter to theocrats who are close to controlling the entire population; they already control vile Christian-conservative representatives in Congress who are doing their dirty work.