GOP’s Inept Planned Parenthood Hearings Were a Disgrace

Published September 30, 2015

National Review Online

Dear Republican Members of Congress,

Consider this an intervention. You guys do not understand how to hold a decent hearing. Hillary Clinton danced away from your Benghazi questions like Muhammad Ali. Your threats to hold more hearings on Planned Parenthood and Benghazi are about as frightening as President Obama’s warnings to Vladimir Putin that “doubling down on Assad would be a mistake.” Within hours of Obama’s feeble bleat, Russian planes were dropping bombs on the Syrian resistance (not, it should be noted, on ISIS). Vladimir Putin’s Russia, once described by John McCain as a “gas station pretending to be a country,” is now running circles around Mr. Obama — rushing to fill the power void left by American abdication in the Middle East.

Speaking of running circles, that’s pretty much what Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards managed to do at the much-heralded hearing this week. The committee’s chairman announced that the devastating videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress would not be shown during the hearing due to a court order in California. So, instead of the topic of the hour — truly heart-rending footage of aborted babies being picked over for their livers and hearts, to cite just one example — the hearing featured charts showing how much money Planned Parenthood spent on various services over the past year. Riveting.

The videos are the reason the hearing was held at all. It is the videos that have galvanized abortion opponents, moved the debate, and put pressure on Congress to once again attempt to defund the organization. If, due to legal wrangling, the videos cannot be shown now, then why not hold off the hearings until they can be shown? The videos are the story. Full stop.

While Ms. Richards spouted platitudes and evasions, a congressman from Arizona tried to say that Planned Parenthood focuses on abortions because it’s profitable for them, but he filled his statement/question with jargon like “unit price” and “profit center” and “narrow focus” and one doubts that the point got across. Meanwhile, Ms. Richards spoke of cancer screenings, and contraceptives, and preventing STDs.

Other Republican members, determined to use their five minutes to get 5 seconds on the evening news or a viral video on Facebook, behaved like talk radio hosts — interrupting the witness, shouting, and demanding yes or no answers. This is not good government. It isn’t even good theater. You look like bullies.

To repeat: Without the videos, there should have been no hearing. Further, individual members should relinquish — or at least radically scale back — their role in questioning witnesses. A solid investigative technique is to let a lawyer ask most of the questions. A keen lawyer doesn’t showboat or bellow. He or she is well-versed in the topic at hand, listens to the witness’s answers, and follows up. The Watergate Committee used lawyers most of the time. Sam Dash was the majority (Democrat) counsel. Fred Thompson asked questions for the minority.

Look, you landed a couple of punches, I won’t deny it. It’s now on the record that Ms. Richards earns nearly $600,000 per year, another in the long list of non-profit chiefs who make tidy sums (check out the salary of Rensselaer Polytechnic president Shirley Ann Jackson).

But there were so many questions you could have asked. Yes, it’s scandalous that Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts and tries to disguise it (as the videos make clear). Ms. Richards kept saying that donating “tissue” was one of the “services” that Planned Parenthood performs for its patients. How is that a service for the woman? Does she share in the money, or does she get the psychic benefit of “finding cures” while Planned Parenthood gets the cash? Speaking of finding cures, does Planned Parenthood support using body parts of condemned criminals for medical research? Just wondering. Unborn babies, of course, are innocent.

You might also have asked Ms. Richards what Planned Parenthood’s policy is if a woman requests an abortion at 20 weeks because the baby has a cleft lip, or is the “wrong” race, or the “wrong” sex. You might have asked her whether patients ever request funerals or burials for their fully formed fetuses. You might have asked if anyone weeps at the clinics she oversees, and if so, why?

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2015

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