"The Questioning Was Clearly Sexist": Rep. Brenda Lawrence on Republican Planned Parenthood Hearings

October 01, 2015



Brenda Lawrence

Michigan Democratic representative who is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. She attended Tuesday’s Planned Parenthood hearing.

Ending weeks of infighting, lawmakers voted Wednesday to avert a government shutdown just hours before a midnight deadline. In the House, a large majority of Republicans voted against the measure, which did not meet conservatives’ demands to cut off money to Planned Parenthood. The move to cut off funding came after the airing of heavily edited videos released by an anti-choice group which claimed to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sharing of fetal tissue with researchers. Wednesday’s vote came one day after Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, faced off with Republican lawmakers before a heated House hearing. We air excerpts and speak to Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), who says the questioning of Richards was "clearly sexist."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ending weeks of infighting, lawmakers voted Wednesday to avert a government shutdown just hours before a midnight deadline. In the House, a large majority of Republicans voted against the measure, which did not meet conservatives’ demands to cut off money to Planned Parenthood. The move to cut off funding came after the airing of heavily edited videos released by an anti-choice group which claimed to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sharing of fetal tissue with researchers. Wednesday’s vote came one day after Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, faced off with Republican lawmakers before a House panel. In her opening statement, Richards testified that Planned Parenthood does not sell fetal tissue to researchers and that the videos Republicans are using to make these claims are heavily edited and do not serve as evidence.

CECILE RICHARDS: There’s been a great deal of misinformation circulated about Planned Parenthood recently, and I want to be absolutely clear at the outset: The federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives allows our doctors and clinicians at our health centers to provide birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. ... The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue. I realize, though, that the facts have never gotten in the way of these campaigns to block women from healthcare they need and deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: The hearing before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was often contentious, with Republican lawmakers grilling Richards on everything from her salary to travel expenditures to fundraising activities. Congressmember Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and chair of the committee, led the often hostile questioning. During the hearing, he presented a slide that he said was from Planned Parenthood’s corporate report, from their data, showing an increase in abortions and a decrease in cancer screenings.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: You don’t do mammograms, correct?


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: There’s like one or two places that does it, but—


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: —you don’t do mammograms.

CECILE RICHARDS: If you would give me one moment to explain—


CECILE RICHARDS: Planned Parenthood is a women’s health center, just like every—where I go for my breast exams every year. If you need a mammogram, you’re referred to a radiological center, and that’s how women actually receive their care. And we provide breast exams to—I could get you the numbers of how many hundreds of thousands of women received breast exams at Planned Parenthood last year, has nothing to do with—I don’t—again—

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Here’s the problem.

CECILE RICHARDS: You created this slide.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Last thing—I’m trying to wrap up.

CECILE RICHARDS: I have no idea what it is.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Well, it’s the reduction, over the course of years, in pink. That’s the reduction in the breast exams, and the red is the increase in the abortions.

CECILE RICHARDS: This is—this—

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: That’s what’s going on in your organization.

CECILE RICHARDS: This is a slide that has never been shown to me before. I’m happy to look at it. And—but it absolutely does not reflect what’s happening at Planned Parenthood.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: You’re going to deny that if we take those numbers out of your report—

CECILE RICHARDS: I’m going to deny the slide that you’ve just shown me that no one has ever provided us before. We have provided you all the information about everything, all the services that Planned Parenthood provides. And doesn’t feel like we’re trying to get to the truth here. You just showed me this. I’m happy to look at it.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports. My time has expired.

CECILE RICHARDS: Oh, excuse me, my lawyer is 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.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. At the bottom of the slide in question, confirming what Cecile Richards said, it clearly states, "Source: Americans United for Life," an anti-Planned Parenthood organization. The Planned Parenthood hearings continued for five hours. At Tuesday’s hearing, Democratic congresswoman Representative Brenda Lawrence of Michigan offered this impassioned response to the questioning of Cecile Richards, particularly regarding what she felt was misinformation by some of her colleagues.

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: My question, Ms. Richards, there seems to be this continuous thought that if Planned Parenthood went away, that there would be these other healthcare services for millions of women because you went away. There’s a suggestion that all of these community health centers would just step in and fill up. Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health and law and policy at George Washington, has worked with the community health centers for years, and I quote: "A claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood ... [is] a gross misrepresentation." I would ask you, Ms, Richards, can—in your experience in healthcare, the perception that if you went away, it will be totally absorbed, can you please respond to that?

CECILE RICHARDS: Thanks, Congresswoman. Yes, I think this is a really important point, and I know there has been a lot of discussion. First, just for the record, we see 2.7 million patients a year; 78 percent of them are at 150 percent of poverty or below, so these are a group of women and men and young people who are often uninsured and certainly have fewer—less access to care. I know there have been a lot of reports that have come out since Congress has suggested eliminating access to Planned Parenthood for patients. I know the CBO own study, the Congressional Budget Office, estimated that 390,000 women would lose care next year if Planned Parenthood—if women could no longer go to Planned Parenthood.

And I think, to some of the questions that have been raised, it’s really important for folks to understand, just as you talked about how women actually get breast exams and breast care in this country, in some areas, we are the only safety-net family planning provider. And that is the care—for most women, and particularly young women, the care that they need is family planning. It’s access to their cancer screenings and their relevant visits. For many—in many areas, there are long waits. We’re—60 percent of our clinics will see folks the same day. In some areas, they won’t take any more Medicaid patients, and Planned Parenthood is the only person—only entity. So—

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: And it is true that the Medicare and the targeted audience or group that use Planned Parenthood are often those who are most at risk. African-American minority women die at a higher level than any other population when it comes to breast cancer, when it comes to actually dying from having pelvic or cervical cancer. So we are actually giving opportunities.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Michigan Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence addressing the committee on its approach for dealing with the head of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards.

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: Thank you. There’s a couple things. It was very troubling to sit here as a woman and to hear some questions that obviously are insensitive. One, the continual question of "why don’t you provide the X-rays for a mammogram?" where every woman here knows you have a primary doctor, and that doctor examines you, and if there is a lump, you are referred to a specialist. 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 healthcare. That would allow us to ask more pertinent questions.

Secondly, it is exhausting to keep hearing about federal dollars being spent on abortion, when repeatedly the facts state—and it’s not a controversy—read the facts, do your research, before you ask these exhausting, sometimes, I feel, insulting, questions. We cannot use federal dollars for abortion. This is not a lump sum budget item that we give to Planned Parenthood. It is reimbursement. How many times does that have to be repeated for this to become an embraced fact? If there were no citizens of the United States going to Planned Parenthood to receive these medical-approved services, that we approve as a Congress, there would be no reimbursement going to Planned Parenthood, they would not receive any funds.

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, as if I keep saying it some kind of way it will become factual.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Michigan Congressmember Brenda Lawrence, extremely frustrated and angry at how the committee was dealing with Planned Parenthood, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on which she sits. She joins us now in Washington, D.C., representing eastern Detroit and beyond.

Congressmember Lawrence, welcome to Democracy Now! The government was not shut down, but Planned Parenthood remains under attack. What is the reason Republicans continually go after this organization, willing to take down the entire U.S. government over it?

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: There has been—thank you so much for having me on the show. There has been repeatedly, year after year, attacks on Planned Parenthood. For some reason, it has become the face of this overall mission by the Republican Party to go against Roe v. Wade, that gives the legal right for women to have abortion in America. And they want to attack that, and they have singled out Planned Parenthood. It is so unfortunate, because that is such a minute or small part of the services that Planned Parenthood gives.

And if you look at the services that Planned Parenthood gives and all of the benefit to those who are most at risk—and we’re talking about healthcare. We’re talking about women getting early detection so they won’t die from cancer. We are talking about young women who have the right to take contraceptives so they can plan their pregnancies, that they can have a opportunity to have control of the reproduction, of their bodies, of children. We are talking about a service that is extremely critical, and women around this world know that. And that’s why you see the polls. They’re not being supported in this attack of one of the major industries that has stood throughout the years to say, "We’re going to take care of women. We’re going to take care of women who don’t always have the resources to have the premier healthcare."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Congresswoman Lawrence, how would you evaluate—we played all these clips from the hearings. How would you evaluate yesterday’s hearing? And what impact do you think it’s likely to have on Planned Parenthood?

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: I hope the public saw how vicious and how insensitive that hearing was. It was insensitive because the misuse of facts repeatedly was totally inappropriate. They kept that woman on—that woman, who is a CEO of a healthcare provider, on trial, as I saw it, for five hours—five hours—repeating the same erroneous statements, that "you’re using federal dollars here, and we should control that, because we’re giving you dollars." And they know. And that’s why I made the comment. My colleagues are more intelligent than that. I know these individuals. I work with them. But in that setting, something that was totally inappropriate, something that I question the integrity of the questions, and it makes me look at my colleagues differently, because you can have an agenda, but attack it with facts. Attack it with real data and disclose things, because we are oversight. Our job is to explore and to investigate issues that are, we feel, not in compliance with the law.

At no time did they say that Planned Parenthood was violating any laws. The videotape that they were using as the premise to bring her before us has been documented, and the gentleman who did the tapes is being investigated, because in California you can’t interview someone without them knowing it. It has been proven that those tapes have been sliced and diced and put together to present—to meet an agenda message. And that message is that Planned Parenthood, for some reason, is doing something wrong.

And let me talk about—we’re talking about the fetal tissues. Do you understand that that is a major part of research, medical research, in America? And it has been used for decades. And it is approved by federal law. So, the fact that we have fetal tissues being given to research and scientific research is something that our medical industry has been doing for years. And thank God they have, because as a result of that, we have been able to find cures to so many different diseases, vaccinations, and people are living longer. Children, babies are living longer because of that. So—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to your fellow congressmember, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, who came to Planned Parenthood’s defense.

REP. GERALD CONNOLLY: The disrespect, the misogyny, rampant here today, tells us what is really going on here. This isn’t about some bogus video, the author of whom does not have the courage to appear here, nor would the majority call him, because they know he’ll make a bad witness under oath. This is about a conservative philosophy that says, "We are constitutionalists." They hold it up. "We believe in rugged individualism and personal liberty"—with one big carve-out, though. There’s an asterisk in that assertion. And that is, except when it comes to women controlling their own bodies and making their own health decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: Without referring to him by name, Congressmember Connolly called out David Daleiden, who made the sting videos. Congresswoman Lawrence, your thoughts on the possibility of him ever appearing before the Congress?

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: It’s my understanding, and this is what I was told, is that if he came, he would have to say, "I plead the Fifth," because he, too, is under indictment. This is, you know, another thing that was very clear: the attack on her salary. And the research has been conducted that she is a CEO of a national healthcare provider, and her salary is right in the middle. She’s not even at the top. So, to come after her and say, "Oh, you make a lot of money"—she has an extreme amount of responsibility. She sees over 2 million patients, her organization, a year. And to go after her salary is very telling of the onslaught of male attack after attack after attack. And I want—

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re calling the representatives sexist?

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: I’m saying that questioning was clearly sexist.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, and I thank you very much for joining us.

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Brenda Lawrence of Michigan on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who was a part of the Planned Parenthood hearing that was held on Tuesday.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Oklahoma. Richard Glossip had a stay of execution last night. One of his biggest advocates is anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean. She was to see him if he died. She would be one of his witnesses. Today she has a very different story to report. Stay with us.

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