W.Va. House speaker targets Planned Parenthood’s state funding

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, announced Tuesday that he is calling on the Department of Health and Human Resources to detail all state funding it provides to Planned Parenthood in West Virginia and to determine if those funds can be diverted to other health care organizations.

“In the aftermath of the recent videos and disclosures about Planned Parenthood, members of the House of Delegates have raised concerns about whether state funds are being provided to this organization,” Armstead said. “This request to [the] DHHR is an effort to determine whether state funds are, in fact, being provided to Planned Parenthood and, if so, how we can ensure that no state funding is provided to that organization.”

Armstead’s announcement follows efforts in Congress to defund the reproductive health organization after the release of undercover videos by an anti-abortion group showing national Planned Parenthood officials discussing how fetal tissue is procured for medical research and treatment.

In his statement, Armstead estimated that Planned Parenthood of West Virginia receives about $800,000 a year in state funding.

Allison Adler, spokeswoman for the DHHR, said Tuesday the department is trying to determine how much funding the agency receives.

Planned Parenthood operates one clinic in West Virginia, the Vienna Health Center in Wood County, which provides primary care and family planning services. It does not, as Armstead acknowledged in his statement, provide abortion services.

Records with the state Auditor’s Office show that, since Aug. 1, 2014, the DHHR’s Division of Health has made 111 payments to the Planned Parenthood facility totaling $78,648. That does not appear to include any payments by Medicaid for individuals’ office visits to the clinic.

Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, Sarah Eldred, regional spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said, “We have gotten a copy of the letter. We are still looking at it, and are formulating our response.”

However, she said an initial review revealed “a couple of strongly inaccurate points” in the letter, including the $800,000 figure.

“There’s no way we get anywhere near that amount of money,” she said, noting that the Vienna Health Center is a small clinic that is open only a few days each week.

“It is unfortunate that Speaker Armstead is using the thoroughly and widely discredited video attacks against Planned Parenthood to push a political agenda,” Eldred said. “From the beginning, these attacks on Planned Parenthood and the care we provide have been about one thing: Banning safe and legal abortion and smearing Planned Parenthood’s trusted name. Planned Parenthood in West Virginia does not participate in fetal tissue donation, nor does it provide abortion services, underscoring the purely political motivation behind the Speaker’s letter to [the] DHHR today.”

House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt said the $800,000 figure “came from a legislative staff analysis of the budget documents for the DHHR’s Family Planning Program, which showed $803,000 in state funds and $2.4 million in federal funds provided for Planned Parenthood of West Virginia.”

DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling issued a statement noting that the agency’s Bureau for Public Health used $800,000 “to purchase bulk supplies for approximately 150 providers across the state who participate in family planning services.”

The statement clarified that of the $2.4 million allocated through a federal block grant, only $66,000 went to the Vienna Planned Parenthood office. It reiterated that abortion services are not provided in either its Family Planning Program or Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program.

Armstead, in his statement, said his goal is to divert the agency’s funding, not cut funding for health services.

“This is not an effort to eliminate state funding for necessary, non-abortion-related health care services, which assist women across our state,” he said. “Rather, it is an attempt to make sure that taxpayer funding is instead provided to other health care providers that retain the trust and confidence of our citizens.”

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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