September 30, 2015

Baltimore Sun: Lawmakers pressure Hogan on Planned Parenthood funding

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan declined Tuesday to take a position on whether state tax dollars should be given to Planned Parenthood as he faced mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle to make a decision.

Nearly 75 Democratic state lawmakers wrote Hogan a letter Tuesday, urging him to continue to fund the organization in his upcoming budget proposal as a way to provide “life-saving cancer screenings, family planning services and other cost-saving preventative health care services” to 40,000 people across seven locations in Maryland.

That follows a letter sent earlier this month from two Republican lawmakers who asked the Hogan administration to look for alternatives to the “barbaric organization.” Funding for Planned Parenthood is at the center of a budget dispute that had threatened to shut down the federal government.

But the governor, through a spokesman, had little to say on the subject.

Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said the administration will not provide details on the next budget until it is published in January.

“We are going to spend the next several months putting next year’s budget together,” Clark said. He pointed out, however, that Hogan said repeatedly during his election campaign that he regards abortion as a “matter of settled law” in Maryland.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat and vice chair of the Senate’s budget committee, called Hogan’s position “good news,” but said Democratic lawmakers are prepared for a fight to protect funding.

Madaleno urged Hogan: “Don’t bring this fight to Annapolis.”

Funding for Planned Parenthood has come under fire by some after an undercover video surfaced that showed executives casually discussing fetal tissue donations. Conservatives in Congress have demanded the federal government cut payments to the organization, but critics lack the votes to force their position. Unrest in the GOP also prompted House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to announce his resignation last week.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, faced House Republicans. Stressing the organization’s efforts to provide health care for women, she said the organization has not broken the law.

“Planned Parenthood has been in the news recently because of deceptively edited videos released by a group that is dedicated to making abortion illegal in this country,” Richards said.

Locally, the state made $2.6 million in payments to Planned Parenthood of Maryland in the 2014 fiscal year. According to the Democrats’ letter to Hogan, the payments were made primarily by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to support health care options, such as cancer screenings and reproductive education.

Republicans Sen. Michael Hough and Del. Barrie Ciliberti wrote a letter Sept. 10 to Hogan’s budget secretary to push the state to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. Both represent Frederick and Carroll counties.

“We believe there are much better and non-controversial ways to fund women’s health care than providing taxpayer money to an organization that shows no regard for the value of human life,” the Republicans wrote. “It is our hope that not one more dime of taxpayer money will go to this barbaric organization.”

Outside the Planned Parenthood office in Baltimore, more than 100 people gathered Tuesday for “Pink Out Day,” a nationwide push to demonstrate support for the organization. They wore pink shirts, pink skirts, pink sunglasses and pink ties, and held signs to express their support: “Don’t Take Away My Care” and “Stand With Planned Parenthood.”

Dr. Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, spoke at the rally, thanking Planned Parenthood for helping to bring down Baltimore’s teen birth rate. By providing additional access to health care and more options to “women, to children and to children’s children,” Wen said, the organization has also played a role in reducing the city’s infant mortality rate.

“I am a doctor, I am a scientist and I believe in evidence and facts and the truth,” Wen said. “Fact: Back in 2007, Baltimore had the fourth-worst infant mortality in the country. As a result of our relationship with Planned Parenthood and with other city partners … Baltimore now has the lowest infant mortality we’ve ever had.”

Meghan Hardy of Parkville said she went to the rally to counter “intimidation” tactics she said Planned Parenthood critics have used. Hardy said she doesn’t think the organization is under attack in Maryland the way it is in other places across the country, but she wants to “keep a really close eye” on issue.

“People have a misunderstanding about what Planned Parenthood does,” the 36-year-old said. “People apparently don’t understand what the difference is between a Pap smear and an abortion.”

Susie Chisolm of Federal Hill said Planned Parenthood is “a big part of my heart,” and important in the lives of many women. Chisolm, 62, said she worked for Planned Parenthood as a counselor for about five years in the 1980s and remembers bomb threats and other attempts to frighten the staff and clients.

“I don’t want women to lose this amazing gift,” Chisolm said.

Originally published by the Baltimore Sun, available online here.