August 29, 2015

Branstad: It’s up to attorney general to determine if Planned Parenthood broke laws

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says it’s “the responsibility” of Iowa’s Democratic attorney general to determine if Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is prosecuted for “any criminal wrong-doing.”

Critics of the organization have called on Iowa’s Republican governor to launch a criminal investigation of Planned Parenthood after a series of undercover videos were released.

“These are videos from other states, so we don’t know if this has happened in Iowa, but this is a national organization,” Branstad told reporters Monday.

As Radio Iowa reported on August 6, Branstad is having officials in the Department of Human Services review federal family planning grants the state administers to see if any state dollars are being used on contraceptives provided by Planned Parenthood.

“We’re going to look at the contracts and see what our rights and responsibilities are,” Branstad said Monday at his weekly news conference. “But I want to protect the taxpayers.”

No state taxpayer dollars are paying for abortions in Iowa. This past Saturday hundreds of abortion opponents rallied at the statehouse to call attention to the undercover videos. Branstad spoke at the gathering.

Branstad being pressured to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood

A conservative Christian organization that hosted 10 Republican presidential candidates last month at an event in Ames is turning a new lobbying effort toward Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

“To encourage Governor Branstad to defund Planned Parenthood and, if anything, he needs to launch an investigation of Planned Parenthood and be willing to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law when it’s proved that there’s wrongdoing,” says Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader.

Vander Plaats ran against Branstad in 2010 in the Republican Primary and Vander Plaats points to a statement Branstad made during a primary debate. Branstad said five years ago that state taxpayer funding “for groups like Planned Parenthood” should end.

“I think Governor Branstad should follow Governor Jindal’s lead in Louisiana, defund (Planned Parenthood) immediately, investigate and prosecute,” Vander Plaats says.

No state or federal tax dollars are being spent on abortions performed at Planned Parenthood, but the organization does get government funding for reproductive health exams, sexually-transmitted disease tests and birth control for low-income patients. Renewed efforts to end taxpayer funding of those Planned Parenthood services comes after an anti-abortion group released undercover videos this summer and has accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denies the charge. The Family Leader has started an on-line petition drive, plus Vander Plaats and others are planning a rally at the statehouse on August 15 to protest those videos.

“We’re going to stand up for the sanctity of human life,” Vander Plaats says, “and hopefully we end the subsidies to such a dark organization.”

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says the governor is “appalled” by the undercover videos and has directed officials in the Iowa Department of Public Health to ensure the state’s “Family Planning Block Grant…does not and will not ever fund abortions or operations related to abortion procedures.”

Planned Parenthood’s national president says the American people have “zero appetite” for political efforts to “deny health care, including birth control,” to millions of American women. According to the 2014 annual report from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, nearly half of its patients were getting birth control. Abortion accounted for two percent of patient services.

Ernst’s bill to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood fails to clear Senate hurdle

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst’s bill to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood failed on procedural grounds Monday evening. Fifty-three senators voted to bring the bill up for consideration, but that was seven votes short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster by Democrats. Ernst said the undercover videos that sparked the effort are not going away.

“We are standing up and shining a light on what is really happening,” Ernst said during a speech on the Senate floor. “This is human life and Planned Parenthood, nation’s single largest provider of abortion services, is harvesting baby body parts.”

Republicans are now discussing the idea of trying again this fall and they may attach the Planned Parenthood “defunding” issue to a must-pass government spending bill.

“The American taxpayer should not be asked to fund an organization like Planned Parenthood that has shown a sheer disdain for human dignity and complete disregard for women and their babies,” Ernst said during remarks on the Senate floor.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid vows to block the effort

“Senate Democrats will fight vigorously this and any other attempt from Republicans to deprive American women of health care,” Reid said.

Republicans in congress unsuccessfully tried four years ago to end federal funding for the reproductive health exams and birth control Planned Parenthood provides to low-income women. This summer the organization has been exposed to new scrutiny after an anti-abortion group released a series of undercover videos and accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood denies the charge. Planned Parenthood’s president said the American people have “zero appetite” for a GOP proposal that would “deny health care, including birth control,” to millions of women.

Senator Ernst and others introduce bill to cut Planned Parenthood funding

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst takes questions at the news conference.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst took the lead today in introducing a bill that would cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of videos showing leaders in the organization talking about harvesting body parts from aborted babies to be sold.

Ernst was joined at a Washington, D.C. news conference by 7 other Republican Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“The recent footage depicting Planned Parenthood’s role in the harvesting of organs — heart, liver, kidneys — of unborn babies is morally reprehensible and vile,” Ernst says. “The American people, Republicans and Democrats alike, are horrified by the utter lack of compassion shown by Planned Parenthood for these women and their babies.”

Ernst says people in both parties are upset by the videos, including a Democrat candidate for president. “In fact, now Hillary Clinton is calling these Planned Parenthood images ‘disturbing.’ And I agree. These videos are hard for anyone to defend, and hit at the moral fiber of our society,” Ernst says.

Ernst says the bill she is backing will take away federal dollars from Planned Parenthood. “In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, our legislation ensures that federal funding taken from Planned Parenthood will be made available to other entities that provide health services for women,” Ernst says.

She says the bill won’t hurt the availability of health services for women.”I want to make clear that there will be no reduction in overall federal funding to support womens’ health,” according to Ernst. Ernst was asked if the bill would also include state funding.”What we are discussing right now is just that federal legislation, and then how those state dollars, local dollars are handled, is another issue that will have to be addressed later on,” Ernst says.

She was also asked if she is against all research using fetal tissue. “That is a separate issue. What we’re seeing right now is absolutely reprehensible. There are a number of questions that have been raised by these videos,” Ernst says. “I have joined and led 49 other Senators in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking that she take a look at this. We want to make sure that any documents regarding this issue are preserved and that she is doing a thorough investigation. And we will see what the results are after she does that.”

Other Republican Senators who appeared with Ernst are: Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas; Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota; Deb Fischer of Nebraska; Johnny Isakson of Georgia; James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign released this statement from Jill June, the former president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in response to the Republican Senator’s news conference:

“Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are nothing but a callous and political attempt to put ideology ahead of the health and well-being of Iowa women. We’ve seen this movie before. Senator Ernst and other Republican senators should drop their latest attack on Planned Parenthood that provides health care each year to nearly 60,000 patients in Iowa and surrounding states, including in hard to serve rural areas. Hillary Clinton believes health care should be left between a woman and her doctor – full stop. It’s time politicians stop trying to insert themselves in these personal decisions and instead focus on the issues Iowans elected them to solve.”

Senator Ernst leads effort asking for answers on Planned Parenthood videos

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, led a bipartisan group which sent a letter to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services following the release of a second undercover video allegedly showing a Planned Parenthood official talking about selling body parts from aborted babies.

“The goal of this letter was to draw attention to the legal, ethical and policy issues raised by the footage, and call upon Secretary Burwell to cooperate with ongoing and future investigations into these questions,” Ernst says. Ernst talked about the goal of the letter.

“We called on HHS to review the compliance of Planned Parenthood — one of the department grantees — with all relevant and applicable federal statutes, regulations and other requirements,” Ernst says. “I truly find this footage reprehensible, vile, and they truly raise questions that taxpayers deserve answers to.”

Ernst made her comments during her weekly teleconference with reporters. She was asked about a vaccine that reportedly can prevent the avian flu. Ernst says she is in favor of vaccines, but wants to be sure of the consequences of using them. “What we want to make sure is if we are utilizing vaccines to prevent the avian influenza, that our trade partners will still accept any exports that we have in poultry production areas,” Ernst says.

She says there is still not a consensus in the chicken and turkey industries about the use of the vaccines. “We’re going to have to look at this very carefully and those decisions — of course we rely heavily on producers to provide us with information on whether they believe the vaccines are the right way to go,” Ernst says. She says the U.S.D.A. will also provide input on the vaccines as will state ag officials in the areas which have dealt with the outbreak. Iowa was one of the hardest hit states with the avian flu outbreak .


Senator Ernst calls Planned Parenthood video ‘absolutely vile’

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is reacting to an undercover video where a top Planned Parenthood official discusses selling body parts from aborted fetuses. “I think the video is absolutely reprehensible, it’s vile, it brings up a number of concerns, a number of questions, and I do think those questions do need to be explored,” Ernst says.

The Republican from Red Oak says she backs an investigation into the issue. “And I want to emphasize, it is not only Republicans who are outraged by this, I think it is all Americans and I think that we do need to follow up to make sure it was legal activity,” Ernst says. “Regardless, we have to get to the bottom of this and make sure that we are informing as well as protecting our taxpayers.”

Publish reports cite the Planned Parenthood official as saying the abortion provider did not profit from selling the body parts. Ernst says the first step is to determine if there was any illegal activity involved, and she says whether its legal or not, she is still concerned. “But again, I find this video and those acts absolutely vile,”Ernst says.

On another topic, Ernst says she has “very serious concerns” with the Iranian nuclear deal announced by the president. President Obama says the recent U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has put a strain on the military and factors into America’s ability to use a military option with Iran. Ernst, the only female combat veteran serving in the U.S. Senate, does not agree.

“I think that was a stretch on the president’s part, that statement,” Ernst says. “I think Iran is going to continue to do what Iran has done for many years — and that is developing a nuclear program. Which I believe goes beyond any peaceful intent. I do think they are on a path for nuclear armament or nuclear weapons.” Ernst doesn’t believe the agreement solves the problem of Iran developing nuclear arms.

“Iran is going to do what Iran wants to do. What we were hoping through these discussions was to prevent Iran from continuing down that path. This does not do that,” Ernst says. She says the agreement concedes too much to Iran. Ernst says she will take a very close look at the details of the agreement in the 60-day review period.


Governor reviewing telemed abortion ruling before deciding on appeal

Governor Terry Branstad talks with reporters.

Governor Terry Branstad talks with reporters.

Governor Terry Branstad talked today about Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling that allows so-called telemed abortions to continue.

“I was very disappointed in the court decision, and we are going to be reading and reviewing and analyzing that and determining what is the best course of action for us to take,” Branstad says.

Branstad says its’ too early to say if the state will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. “I do respect the fact that the courts are a separate branch of government from the executive branch of government. And I have not had the chance to review this in great detail. But I am disappointed in this decision,” Branstad says.

The Iowa Supreme Court said a rule created by the Board of Medicine requiring a doctor to be present for telemed abortions placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy and was unconstitutional.

The governor made his remarks during his weekly meeting with reporters.