WASHINGTON — With Congress in summer recess into September, anti-abortion officials in a number of Republican-controlled states are rushing to halt public funding for Planned Parenthood or to investigate it in reaction to hidden-camera videos claiming that it profits from fetal tissue sales.
On Monday, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida sought a judge’s emergency injunction against the state health agency, which did inspections ordered by the governor and cited three clinics — in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers — as illegally performing second-trimester abortions when they are licensed only for first-trimester procedures. The state used a new definition of gestational age, one that differs from that of medical societies.
Planned Parenthood condemned the Florida charges as false, just as it has the allegations of trafficking in fetal parts that have been lodged against it since last month in a series of online videos. The recordings of Planned Parenthood officials were secretly made by abortion opponents posing as biomedical representatives seeking tissue for medical research.
Those videos have spurred the most energized campaign to “defund” the nonprofit organization in several years — joined by Republicans in Congress; state capitals, especially in the South; and the 2016 presidential field. And more videos have been promised, roughly at the rate of one a week, to keep the issue alive into the fall.
Conservative groups and lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood and other family-planning programs are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
Pending Congress’s move, however, some states dominated by Republicans are acting now, though Planned Parenthood affiliates in those states do not have fetal donation programs. Such programs exist in three states — California, Washington and Oregon — officials say, with tissue provided to researchers only with the consent of patients and with charges reflecting only clinics’ costs, not profits.
While Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortions, fewer than half of its nearly 700 clinics perform them, according to the organization. By longtime law, no federal money can cover abortions except for Medicaid patients in cases of rape, incest or pregnancy that threatens a woman’s life.
Instead, public funding covers services to a mostly low-income clientele for contraception, wellness care, cancer screening and the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for women and men. The funding makes up about 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget.
On Friday, Arkansas became the fifth state to try to cut off state money by ending its contract with Planned Parenthood for services to residents covered by Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor jointly run by states and the federal government. Arkansas follows Louisiana, Alabama, Utah and New Hampshire. The actions would not take effect until September, pending a period for appeal.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, in his order seeking to break the contract with Planned Parenthood, echoed Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a Republican presidential candidate. “This organization does not represent the values of the people of our state,” he wrote.
This month, the federal government warned Louisiana and Alabama that terminating the contracts would violate federal law, which entitles Medicaid beneficiaries to care from the provider they choose. But Washington’s enforcement power is limited; it is not clear that the states would be moved by a cutoff of their federal Medicaid funds, and such action would penalize beneficiaries.
In past years, however, Planned Parenthood has won in court against such state actions. Organization officials say they are “weighing all options.”
In other states, as in the Republican-led Congress, Republicans have begun investigations into whether Planned Parenthood has broken any laws. Those include Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio.
Some states have decided against action, at least for now, because they found no evidence of wrongdoing or because local clinics have no fetal tissue programs.
Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, a Republican, wrote on Aug. 6 to legislators who had complained about the videos, saying, “Since there is no evidence that a crime has been committed, there are no grounds for a legal investigation.”
The New England Journal of Medicine came to the defense of fetal tissue research and Planned Parenthood with two editorials last week. “Planned Parenthood, its physicians, and the researchers who do this work should be praised, not damned,” said one, because the research “has benefited millions of people worldwide.”