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Once again, Planned Parenthood president disputes argument its federal funds are fungible

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards briefly joined a debate on WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show Wednesday, where she refuted the notion that the federal money Planned Parenthood currently receives funds abortions indirectly.

“We have very, very strict federal auditing rules,” Richards said. “Federal funds are reimbursed for specific health care services. … The federal government pays for services we provide, such as birth control and STD testing.”

Richards made a point to note that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, trying to clear up a recent claim “exposed” by anti-abortion rights media group Live Action that Planned Parenthood has been lying about providing mammograms.

The other panelists invited to speak on the topic of ”Women’s Health and the Budget” included Sarah Brown, chief executive officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy; Laura Meckler, White House Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. (Initially, Americans United for Life staff counsel Kellie Fiedorek was scheduled to appear on the show, but the Diane Rehm Show canceled on Fiedorek after their first choice, Dannenfelser, agreed to go on.)

Dannenfelser pushed the oft-repeated argument that taxpayer money pays for Planned Parenthood’s operations, which not only frees up other spending but contributes to their abortion business — despite Richards assertion that federal money pays for specific services, not just anything that’s not abortion.

Dannenfelser compared Planned Parenthood’s budget management to that of a teenager. “Who knows where that money will end up?” she said.

The back-and-forth between Richards and Dannenfelser and later Brown and Dannenfelser reflected the same arguments that have permeated media and congressional debates ever since Rep. Mike Pence first introduced his amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in the Continuing Resolution.

“You can apply any argument you like,” Meckler said. “It’s a question of whether [people] buy it or not.” She noted that the fungibility claim can be applied to any business or agency. “People don’t like Planned Parenthood because they don’t like abortion.”

Dannenfelser argued that the debate in Congress is not about funding family planning services but about funding abortion, while Brown argued that it’s not about defunding abortion but about defunding Planned Parenthood. Dannenfelser cited statistics from a brand-new poll (PDF) that shows that 54 percent of Americans oppose giving tax dollars for family planning services to organizations that perform abortions. Brown countered with a poll that she claimed shows that 70 percent of Americans approve making it easier for people to obtain all methods of contraception.

“The more ideological an organization is, the less trusting I am of their polling,” Meckler said. Where she thinks the American public stands is that they generally favor abortion rights but not the federal funding of abortions. ”The federal government is not allowed to subsidize abortion. The issue is whether the federal government should pay for the other work [Planned Parenthood does].”

BBC reporter Katty Kay (filling in for Diane Rehm) asked Dannenfelser: ”Do you think federal funding should be used to help women get contraception?”

Dannenfelser never answered the question but responded: “Where there is money there will be entrepreneurs,” suggesting that other people will come forward to provide affordable pap smears, birth control and STD testing to low-income women and men. “Planned Parenthood will never give up that central abortion mandate.”

On Thursday, the U.S. House will revisit this contentious funding issue, which nearly shut down the federal government last Friday, when they vote on a federal budget for 2011.

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