WASHINGTON -- A divided House voted Friday to block Planned Parenthood's federal funds for a year, as Republican leaders tried to keep GOP opposition to abortion from spiraling into an impasse with President Barack Obama and causing a government shutdown.
The House voted 241-187 for the legislation, with just three Republicans and two Democrats breaking from their party lines. The four representatives from Arkansas, all Republicans, voted for the bill.
The measure stands little chance of enactment, since Senate Democrats have enough votes to block it and the White House has promised a veto.
Yet Republicans are forging ahead, sparked by secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they take tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research.
Those videos have helped to emphasize abortion as an issue for next year's elections. They have also refueled Congress' emotional clashes on the subject, with Friday's debate featuring a poster-sized photo of a scarred, aborted fetus and accusations from each side that the other was simply trying to drum up campaign donations.
"In the face of these videos, with all the alternatives women have for health, why would you want to force your constituents to pay for something so evil?" said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The bill by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., would shift Planned Parenthood's federal payments to the thousands of government-backed community health centers, which Republicans said would treat the group's displaced patients. Most of the organization's $450 million yearly in federal money -- a third of its $1.3 billion annual budget -- comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating low-income clients, and virtually none of it can be used for abortions.
Democrats said other clinics are already overburdened and often distant from women who need them. They said the true GOP goal was to whip up conservative voters with bills that would result in diminished health care for women.
"Some of their members are willing to risk women's lives just to score political points," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. "Enough is enough."
In statements, Arkansas' representatives said Congress needs time to determine whether the family-planning organization is selling fetal tissue.
"Until the investigation into Planned Parenthood is complete, we cannot in good conscience use taxpayer dollars to fund the organization," said Rep. French Hill of Little Rock.
Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro said, "I strongly support women's access to the best available health care, but the recent discovery regarding Planned Parenthood's abortion practices and transactions gravely questions the organization's legal -- not to mention moral -- standing."
Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers said taxpayers shouldn't fund the organization while Congress investigates.
"Unborn lives matter, and I am frankly disgusted by Planned Parenthood's unethical actions and continuously callous tone," he said.
Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said, "As recent videos have shown, the organization is engaged not only in abortion but other deplorable acts."
Abortion opponents say the tapes show Planned Parenthood illegally profited from tissue sales for research. Planned Parenthood has said it has acted legally and that the tapes were deceptively edited.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said Republicans relying on those videos had "manufactured a witch hunt."
After further debate, the House voted 248-177 to approve a bill by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that imposes penalties of up to five years in prison plus fines on doctors who don't try to save infants born alive during abortions. Arkansas' representatives all voted for the bill, which also faces a veto threat from Obama.
The Senate scheduled a vote Tuesday on a measure banning most late-term abortions, a bill that Democrats were poised to scuttle. Committees from both chambers were investigating Planned Parenthood.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a longtime abortion foe, and virtually all House Republicans favor halting the flow of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood. But Boehner and other GOP leaders say a government-shutdown battle would be fruitless because they lack enough votes to prevail in the Senate or overcome an Obama veto. They say voters oppose a shutdown and would punish the GOP in next year's elections if one occurred.
Party leaders want to avoid entwining the GOP effort to halt Planned Parenthood's money with must-pass legislation needed to keep government agencies from closing Oct. 1.
GOP efforts to avoid a shutdown were explicitly endorsed Friday by the nation's most powerful anti-abortion group. Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a written statement that a government shutdown would cause "political damage to our allies" by angering the public, and added, "The grim fact is this: In order to defund Planned Parenthood, we must have a pro-life president."
Long unhappy with Boehner and other GOP leaders for not being confrontational enough, some in his party have threatened to force a House vote on removing him from his post if he backs down on this or other forthcoming fights over federal borrowing and spending.
The fight over abortion touches an emotional hot spot among each side's most loyal partisans and could be pivotal as each party seeks female voters.
Franks, sponsor of the bill imposing criminal penalties on doctors, defended his legislation as he stood beside a poster-sized photo of a scarred fetus that survived an abortion attempt.
"Our response as a people and a nation to these horrors shown in these videos is vital to everything those lying out in Arlington Cemetery died to save," Franks said.
Democrats said Franks' measure was unneeded because clinicians allowing born-alive babies to die would face murder charges.
"Its real intent is to further undermine a woman's right to choose," said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero called the two House-passed bills "a callous attempt to insert politics into women's health."
The Planned Parenthood dispute has been partly fueled by the race for the GOP's presidential nomination. Several candidates used their Wednesday night debate to urge lawmakers to block the funding.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., spotlighted GOP divisions by writing Thursday to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for Republican presidential nomination. Cruz wants Republicans to oppose financing the government unless Planned Parenthood's money is cut off.
Ayotte, who faces her own tough re-election fight next year, wrote that she opposed risking a shutdown "given the challenges and threats we face at home and abroad" and asked, "What is your strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood?"
Information for this article was contributed by Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press and by Sarah D. Wire of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 09/19/2015
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