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Republicans Prepare Efforts To Defund Planned Parenthood


House Speaker Paul Ryan announced yesterday that Republicans will once again push to cut off federal tax dollars to Planned Parenthood. Republicans have tried and failed to do this in the past. President Obama vetoed a similar bill last January.

Now with a Republican president about to take office, the party has its best chance in more than a decade to get it signed into law. Joining us now to discuss this is NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.


SHAPIRO: Start with some basic facts. How does Planned Parenthood receive federal funding, and what does it use that money for?

DAVIS: OK, so Planned Parenthood is not funded directly by the federal government. What they do is they provide a number of health services mainly for poor women, and then they're reimbursed by Medicaid for those services they provided. It's illegal to use those Medicaid funds to pay for abortions with very few exceptions in federal law. They also get money through a federal grant program that's known as Title 10. It's for family planning, but it's also illegal to use those funds to pay for any abortion services.

Now, Planned Parenthood does provide legal abortions, and they do refer patients to providers that also do. But those are not paid for by taxpayers. And this, Ari, is where the politics come into play on this issue and the divide over access to those abortion rights - not only whether it should be legal but what role the federal government has in all of this.

SHAPIRO: So explain what exactly Republicans are proposing to do here.

DAVIS: OK, so Republicans are looking to add a defund provision into a bigger budget bill they're working on to repeal parts of Obamacare. We'll probably see that bill by late February. And that bill is protected by special budget rules, so it can't be filibustered in the Senate. And the filibuster is what Democrats have used in the past to block these similar defund efforts. And they don't have that tool in their tool kit this year.

Also what's motivating Republicans at this particular time - the why-now question. There was also a report out this week by a Republican-led House committee that was heavily critical of Planned Parenthood on a number of issues but particularly the role they play in not only abortion services but facilitating the transfer of fetal tissue that's used for medical research. This is also a very controversial debate and Republicans are very much against it. But this latest defund effort is just part of a very big, broad debate over abortion and Planned Parenthood and what services they can and should be allowed to provide.

SHAPIRO: Donald Trump has a mixed record on Planned Parenthood. During the campaign, he praised the organization, saying they do very good work for millions of women. But he has also said sometimes in the same breath that he supports cutting off federal funding. So which Donald Trump do you think Republicans will be dealing with here?

DAVIS: You know, I can't say for sure, but I do know that his inner circle is very much for this. A key player in all of this is Vice President-elect Mike Pence. He offered legislation to defund Planned Parenthood when he was a member of the House, and it passed then. But it fizzled in the Senate because of that filibuster I mentioned, and it was tried - it was done in a different way then. Pence has been a leader in this movement his entire political career. There is zero ambiguity of where he is on this issue. And he's the Trump administration's top liaison on Capitol Hill.

I do have to say, Ari. One person who could be interesting to watch in all of this - Ivanka Trump. You know, she's been this moderating force for her dad on this and other issues mainly affecting women. Now, of course we don't know if she's going to weigh in on this, but if she does, it's going to be interesting to watch. And we don't know what Trump's going to do until he says it or tweets about it.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And what have we heard from Planned Parenthood and the group's allies in Congress?

DAVIS: Shortly after Paul Ryan said on Thursday that they were going to move fund with this - move forward with this, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards tweeted, not without one hell of a fight. This is going to be a really pitched battle.

Two interesting people to watch - Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They are Republican senators, but in the past, they have opposed similar efforts, and they could be allies of Democrats on this. Also, public polling has shown that a majority of Americans oppose cutting off all funds. So this is a risk here for Republicans but one at this moment they are ready to take.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA VEIRS SONG, "IKARIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.