A group of 72 lawmakers have revived an effort to ask the government's watchdog agency to scrutinize taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood and five other organizations who provide family-planning services.
The request for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) probe -- which drew a sharp response from Planned Parenthood -- focuses on Planned Parenthood Federation of America, International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council, the Guttmacher Institute, Advocates for Youth and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
Pro-life groups have long pushed Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood, noting that although by law federal funds may not be used directly to pay for abortions, Planned Parenthood receives about $1 million a day in federal funding for its other services.
"Planned Parenthood and other organizations who provide abortions are dependent on Uncle Sam, but there is no accounting with what they are actually using the money for. This GAO report would shine a light on how tax dollars are being spent," said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, and one of the coauthors of a recent letter to the GAO.
Last year, Planned Parenthood performed a record 333,964 abortions and received a record $542 million in federal funding -- up 11 percent since 2011, Mr. Vitter said.
"My hope is that through greater transparency and accountability, we can successfully mobilize the support needed to de-fund abortion providers, once and for all," said Rep. Diane L. Black, Tennessee Republican, one of 66 House members who signed the letter.
Other senators who signed the letter are Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, James Risch of Idaho, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, rejected what she called "political attacks" from "out-of-touch politicians."
"At a time when the American people want Congress to focus on creating jobs and preventing the looming budget cuts, it is ridiculous that some members of Congress are instead focused on launching baseless political attacks aimed at restricting women's access to preventive health care," Ms. Richards said.
Planned Parenthood health centers, like other health care providers, "are reimbursed by the government for providing specific preventive health services," such as cervical-cancer screenings, breast exams, testing for disease and birth control for low-income patients, she said.
The congressional letter to the GAO asks for details on the amount and sources of federal funding to these organizations since 2010.
GAO investigators were also asked to collect data on how many women's health services are provided by Community Health Centers and federally qualified health centers, as well as the number of individuals who have received services.
Pro-life groups, citing concerns that federal funds are subsidizing abortions, have long pushed Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood. In particular, Americans United for Life issued a lengthy report critical of Planned Parenthood in July 2011.
A previous GAO report on Planned Parenthood finances was conducted "before we learned what many feared to be true -- that Planned Parenthood has failed to properly follow correct billing practices to prevent federal tax dollars from funding abortion services, as demanded by law," said Rep. Pete Olson, Texas Republican. A new GAO report "is critically needed," he said.
Ms. Richards said that her organization would continue to provide health care to 3 million people a year at more than 750 Planned Parenthood health centers, "even while fending off political attacks."
These services include giving birth-control information and services to 2 million patients; nearly 600,000 Pap tests; 640,000 breast exams; and nearly 4.5 million tests for sexual disease, including HIV, according to the organization's annual report for 2011-2012.
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