An Orlando-based conservative Christian group has called on Gov. Rick Scott to choke off all forms of state funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the organization has broken the law and doesn’t deserve taxpayer money.
In a letter dated Sept. 22, 2015, Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger thanked Scott for investigating state Planned Parenthood affiliates after videos showing officials discussing fetal tissue were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress this summer. But Stemberger wanted Scott to go further.
Stemberger said because of what the videos show, the group should not get money through the state’s Medicaid program and Title X, a federal grant program for family planning and preventive health services.
"No organization with a record of illegal activity and abuse, now found to also illegally sell baby parts and likely altering abortion practices to do so, should receive taxpayer dollars," Stemberger wrote. (GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush ended direct state subsidies for the group in 2001.)
Planned Parenthood has been subject to hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives because of the videos, but has it been proven the organization broke the law with their fetal tissue donations? The short answer is no, but there’s no shortage of accusations.
To get up to speed, part of a Center for Medical Progress video shows Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, telling undercover activists that fetal tissue can be obtained for fees in the $30 to $100 range.
Activists against abortion rights say this is proof the group has a history of trying to "illegally sell baby parts," as Stemberger’s letter said. Many critics have argued Planned Parenthood has broken the law.
But there has been no legal ruling against the group. The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 allows a woman to consent to donating fetal tissue after an abortion. This tissue then can be donated to researchers, but allows providers to charge vaguely defined "reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue." Planned Parenthood said discussions of payments were only about recouping costs, not making a profit.
Experts largely agree that the fees Nucatola describes are within the scope of the law.
The videos led to several congressional hearings on how Planned Parenthood uses federal funding. Planned Parenthood is a network of affiliated nonprofit organizations that cooperate with each other, led by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Funding comes from a wide range of sources, including private donations, grants, health center revenue and Medicaid. State and federal money cannot be used for abortion services.
Scott ordered the investigation into 16 Planned Parenthood health centers that provide abortion services and are operated by Florida’s two affiliated chapters. None of the state locations participate in a fetal tissue donation program.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration, which ensures health centers comply with state guidelines, cited three clinics for allegedly providing second-trimester abortions without a license, violations Planned Parenthood has denied. A fourth was cited for improper recordkeeping. (Planned Parenthood has sued Florida over the investigation.) None were cited for how they handled fetal tissue.
Stemberger’s letter makes reference to the result of the Florida investigation, and also mentions a 2008 incident in which Planned Parenthood ended its affiliation with four clinics in Broward County and one in Boca Raton.
The chapter running those clinics, formerly known as Planned Parenthood of South Palm Beach and Broward Counties, was mired in harassment complaints and the possible misuse of nearly $450,000, which was just less than the $500,000 it received in taxpayer funding. Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates Executive Director Laura Goodhue said the organization ended its affiliation with that chapter over the mismanagement.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, another conservative Christian group that Stemberger said does legal research for the Florida Family Policy Council, included this incident in a report on potential fraud. It’s the only mention of Florida in the report.
But Stemberger’s letter goes on to say, "This is merely a short list of the abuses committed by Planned Parenthood in Florida, not including its stunning failure to report sexual abuse of minors, waste, abuse, and potential fraud of taxpayer dollars."
Stemberger told PolitiFact Florida that he was referring in part to accusations that clinics in other states had failed to report sexual abuse. Alliance Defending Freedom tracks abuse accusations in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio and other places. Accusations of not reporting sexual abuse also are a subject of sting videos by another group called Live Action. Planned Parenthood maintains its policy is to report all suspected instances of sexual abuse.
While we found no concrete evidence of similar accusations in Florida, Stemberger said Planned Parenthood as a whole was still culpable.
"If none of these violations occurred in Florida, it still holds true," he said. "There’s a commonality of practice here that ties the two together."
Both Scott’s office and Planned Parenthood have disagreed with Stemberger’s assertion that the governor could end state funding through Medicaid and Title X, saying it would be a violation of federal law. The state said about $45,000 in matching funds goes to Planned Parenthood through Medicaid, and three clinics have contracts for newborn health screening and other services. The clinics have to comply with state and federal laws.
Stemberger maintained funding can be pulled if Planned Parenthood no longer qualifies as a provider. Scott’s response to Stemberger’s letter reiterated his disdain for Planned Parenthood, but didn’t offer more detail.
"We took aggressive, immediate action to investigate Planned Parenthood offices in Florida when the horrific videos were released," Scott said in a statement in response to the letter. "When we found that some of their facilities were not complying with state law, we held them accountable."
As for Stemberger’s assertion of other wrongdoing, Goodhue said she didn’t have records of any other investigations besides inquiries this summer.
"We’re heavily regulated. AHCA can investigate us at any time," she said.
Stemberger said Planned Parenthood has "now (been) found to also illegally sell baby parts."
Videos from the Center for Medical Progress have led to lots of debate among activists and politicians, but federal law allows for fetal tissue donations to researchers. Abortion providers also are allowed to charge a fee for facilitating those donations. At any rate, the Florida affiliates are not participating in these types of transactions.
Stemberger’s letter makes it sound as if Planned Parenthood had been proven guilty of a crime, which is not accurate. He also made a host of other accusations against the Florida organization for which we can’t find evidence.
We rate his statement False.