(Opinion column) — Some right-wing U.S. House Republicans have a wincingly imbecilic way of trying to show they’re not waging a war on women. It should be their undoing on the campaign trail next year.

Last week they embarrassed themselves by publicly berating a woman who oversees a nonprofit organization that provides vital health services to more than 2.7 million low-income American women annually. It was a shameful display of how some rabidly conservative politicians use distortions and outright lies to bully women — especially poor women — and treat them as second-class citizens.

Fortunately, it was broadcast live on TV and is available for voters to see on YouTube, hopefully forever.

One of the key players in a disastrous congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood was U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, a Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus that proudly politically pummeled GOP House Speaker John Boehner until he quit his job rather than deal with them.

These “patriots” threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress defunded Planned Parenthood — something Democrats and reasonable Republicans fortunately prevented them from doing, at least until the current stop-gap measure expires.

The game plan of Lummis and other GOP anti-abortion members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to badger Planned Parenthood Executive Director Cecile Richards over the organization’s alleged use of federal funds to terminate pregnancies.

The funding issue was just a smokescreen by Republicans to use discredited, heavily edited videos obtained surreptitiously by an anti-abortion group to fool the public into believing Planned Parenthood tries to profit from selling fetal tissue for research.

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina falsely claimed at a debate last month that she watched a video that showed Planned Parenthood staff discuss how they needed to keep an aborted baby alive so they could harvest its brain and sell it. Despite the fact that even the makers of the video said no such scene existed, Fiorina doubled down on her lie and insisted she saw it.

Recognizing that the truth needn’t be a reason to halt a well-funded partisan smear campaign, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called for a special investigation of the videos. Richards voluntarily testified before the panel, and in the interest of transparency turned over tens of thousands of documents to the committee, including many it didn’t even request.

In a bizarre opening statement, Chaffetz said both his parents died of cancer and that the nation needs to spend a lot more money to fight the disease. Nobody disagreed. But somehow this is supposed to justify taking money away from Planned Parenthood, even though it provides tens of thousands of cervical cancer exams a year for women who can’t get them anywhere else.

Richards explained while abortion is one of the most expensive procedures that Planned Parenthood provides, it represents only 3 percent of the health services the organization offers. It serves low-income women in mostly rural areas who can’t obtain health care anywhere else.

The director repeatedly backed up her assertion that Planned Parenthood does not use any federal dollars for abortions, except in rare cases of rape, incest and the health of the mother, which is permitted under federal law. As Richards kept reminding the openly hostile panel members, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a constitutionally protected legal right, and the government has no business interfering with a health decision that should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

Richards also noted that largely due to the availability of birth control at Planned Parenthood clinics, the rate of teenage pregnancies has decreased by 40 percent. If the pro-life movement’s agenda was strictly about fewer abortions, it should greet that news happily, instead of insisting that every sperm is sacred and every single fetus must be carried to term.

Lummis’ questioning of Richards was slightly less objectionable than the raving, false assertions of Chaffetz, who tried to sneak in a blatantly bogus chart prepared by an anti-abortion group that purported to show the number of mammograms at Planned Parenthood fell while the number of abortions performed rose dramatically. But Lummis’ performance should still embarrass anyone from Wyoming, whether he or she is pro-choice or anti-abortion.

In addition to being way off point in most of her questions, Lummis was extremely rude. Wyoming’s representative never gave Richards a chance to fully answer a single one of her queries before interrupting to change topics. Lummis told Richards that many taxpayers object to using federal money to pay for “abhorrent services.”

Richards: “I’d like to address that, because one of my comments that was made earlier I wasn’t able to respond that we didn’t get a federal subsidy. Really, it’s important to understand for everyone here …”

Lummis interrupts: “Can you function on non-federal dollars? Why do you need federal dollars? You’re making a ton of dough.”

Richards: “We don’t make any profit off of federal funds. If I could just have a moment to explain —”

Lummis interrupts: “But you’re using federal funds and displacing money that could go to 13,000 health care clinics.”

Richards: “I do think it’s really important that you understand that 60 percent of our patients are receiving — are Medicaid patients or they may be Title X patients. Seventy-eight percent of our patients live at 150 percent of the poverty level or below. And for many of them Planned Parenthood is the only family planning provider that will see them in their area.”

Lummis tried to ask a “gotcha” question to make the director admit Planned Parenthood clinics do not have mammogram machines — a fact Richards readily acknowledged. Like many health care clinics, Planned Parenthood gives patients an initial breast exam, and then refers them to a radiology center for a mammogram if a lump is found, and bills Medicaid. It’s standard procedure and not, as Lummis suggested, some kind of sinister plot.

One of the most ridiculous complaints by Chaffetz and other Republicans was about Richards’ supposedly exorbitant salary of $520,000. The chairman sarcastically congratulated her for making so much money, inferring she’s bilking the public. He ignored the fact no federal funds are used to pay her salary — one that’s certainly reasonable for a professional running a huge nonprofit that provides essential health care to millions of women.

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, brilliantly retorted that Republicans never talk about cutting federal support to banks whose CEOs make 50 times more than Richards, and who — unlike Planned Parenthood — have actually been convicted of crimes and fined billions of dollars.

Congress has been rife with time- and money-wasting witch hunts in the past few years, including 10 that failed to come up with a shred of administration wrongdoing in the tragedy at Benghazi. They will probably pale in comparison to upcoming GOP attacks on Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s alleged email scandal while she was Secretary of State, even though she broke no laws or even State Department policies.

But trying to tar-and-feather Planned Parenthood by bullying its CEO while threatening to shut down the federal government and kicking their leader’s rear out the door is a new low, even for extremist politicians desperately trying to out-kook each other while pandering to the party’s base. It’s embarrassing to the entire state when our lone congresswoman obviously relishes her participation in a sordid display of partisan politics at its most rancid.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. And Corryne still doesn’t get it…

    …women are dying every time a female baby is aborted. Corryne and others like her have simply decided an adult female is more important than a baby female. Abortion is a war on women.

    Abortion kills a human baby even if it is legal or a constitutional right – that is a shameful thing not just for women, but for the whole of our society.

    Concerning crisis pregnancy centers, if you reread my comment you will see I didn’t count crisis pregnancy centers in the 13,000 number I quoted, because I anticipated that people like you hate them. The 665 PP centers are a drop in the bucket representing only 5%, women will still be able to receive quality healthcare.

    Shaun Sells

  2. Anyone who wants to criminalize abortion is literally warring on women, because women WILL DIE if they are denied this legal procedure. Abortions will take place with or without Planned Parenthood, and with or without legal status. It has been happening since the dawn of human history, and it will continue as long as women exist on this planet.

    The costs associated with traveling possibly hundreds of miles — transportation, overnight accommodations, etc. — add to the difficulty of ending a pregnancy safely, especially in a huge state like Wyoming. Not to mention the cost of the procedure itself.

    If you want to deny that a war on women exists, then stop shaming them for making their own decisions, and stop preventing them from obtaining health care safely. Having an abortion is legal, and it is a constitutional right.

    And by the way, those “crisis pregnancy centers” do not count as women’s health clinics. All they do is try to talk women out of ending pregnancies.
    Also, it doesn’t matter that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do mammograms itself. That’s the same thing that happens with most other health clinics — a mammogram order has to be referred to a radiology facility. Duh.

    Corryne Drake

  3. Mr. Drake does not speak for me or for most of the people I know. In fact, it is not clear how his blind support for Planned Parenthood does anything for Wyoming’s women at all.

    I also wonder how he could miss the glaringly obvious irony that his personal and vitriolic attack on a woman, Cynthia Lummis, is leveled in the context of repeating the tired bromide about a Republican war on women.

    Since it is not possible to refute all of this logorrhea in the confines of a brief letter, I will limit myself to the question of how, exactly, Planned Parenthood benefits Wyoming’s women.

    For starters, let’s be clear: nobody is proposing to take money away from women’s health clinics. The fact is that the proposals on the table are to take $500 million of federal money from the largest abortion provider in America and give that same money to women’s health clinics. These clinics care for women with pap tests and mammograms while not partaking in Planned Parenthood’s indefensible practices.

    The only proceedure that Planned Parenthood does better than anybody else is abortion. They perform approximately 300,000 abortions each year while the other community health clinics perform zero. Let’s not forget that more than half of those abortions kill females. Whether they are paid for by the federal funds they receive or by money from the other side of the bucket matters little to them.

    The real question is this: do these ghastly procedures actually help any women? Is Mr. Drake aware that there has never, ever, been a single clinical study which explores this most obvious question? We laugh at our benighted forbears who used leeches and blood-letting for therapy without any proof that it actually worked. But we are doing they same, and worse. At the very least, we could ear-mark some of the $500 million and use it for a clinical study of an actual benefit/risk analysis of abortion.

    As for proven health services, according to the Democrats for Life website, there are over 9000 community health clinics nationwide but fewer than 700 Planned Parenthood clinics. In these, Planned Parenthood performs 378,692 pap tests, while other community health clinics perform 1,787,256. When it comes to mammograms, Planned Parenthood performs exactly ZERO while other community health clinics perform 424,376!

    Finally, in Wyoming, there is only one Planned Parenthood clinic in the whole state. This is located in Mr. Drake’s home town. Planned Parenthood offers nothing at all to any other of Wyoming’s women. If community health clinics are already surpassing Planned Parenthood in both Pap Tests and Mammograms, imagine what they could do for Evanston women and the rest of the state if those $500 million were not monopolized by Planned Parenthood.

    If Mr. Drake were truly concerned with the women of Wyoming, an exploration these points would be some common ground that I would gladly support.

    Jonathan Lange

  4. What a smokescreen Mr. Drake and Director Richardson have placed before us. It is their desire to say that 327,653 babies being murdered is justified because that is only 3% of the services PP offers. That works out to 40% of all abortions in America, 897 babies killed each day, 37 per hour, one every 90 seconds. If abortion is truly only 3% of the services you offer, then why not be willing to stop offering abortions and focus on the other 97% of services that everyone is so concerned about.

    They would like us to believe that if we defund planned parenthood that women would no longer have anywhere to go to get services. If Planned Parenthood shut down every one of their 665 locations, American women would still have access to over 13,000 clinics that provide comprehensive health care for women. That number does not include Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which can offer many of those same services. Taxpayers currently give $487.4 million dollars to planned parenthood (working out to $732,932 per clinic). I am sure that they could find 665 clinics that already exist who would be glad to take that money and provide services that do not include murder.

    Additionally I would point out that PP currently has over one billion dollars in net assets and in 2014 made a profit of over $90 million dollars (not bad for a non-profit organization). If we stopped funding PP I am quite confident they would find corporate sponsors to fund much of the work they did.

    The author wants to call this a war on women, well how about recognizing that some of those murdered babies are women, even though they are still in the womb. Imagine if it was discovered that they were killing babies that were two weeks old – we wouldn’t just defund PP, we would prosecute and possibly execute them. But, because these babies haven’t passed through the birth canal yet they aren’t deserving of life?

    This is not a political issue, it is a life and death struggle against evil. Cecile Richards and Kerry Drake are either very deceived or very demented individuals to stand so boldly on the side of evil.

    Shaun Sells

  5. I too, am very disappointed in our “representative.” She will fight hard and be rude, but once the fetus is born (usually to a poor woman) she will fight just as hard to cut any benefits that might help that person get ahead in the world.

    Leslie Petersen

  6. I have long ago ceased being eager to share my love of my home state very loudly because of people like Cheny, Lummis, Enzi and Barrasso, who pander to the people who are (and they ARE) waging war against women, the poor, – anyone who is on Social Security and who may need food stamps just to get by. Their interest is in keeping the polluters (oil and coal companies come to mind) safe from any scolding by those smart enough to see that climate change is REAL. Lummis was so proud of herself as she got her 15 minutes in the spotlight – but the real hero of that hearing was Cecile Richards, who must have wanted to unload on that whole committee, but instead kept her cool and answered (when Chafetz and Lummis weren’t rudely interrupting her) the questions asked. Her mother was a great lady, and Cecile follows in those classy footsteps. This whole bunch isn’t looking out for us “common” people – – if we can’t send them big money or do them some good – they have no use for us. It is high time we remember that come next election day.

    Paula Lynn

  7. Thank you for correctly characterizing Rep. Lummis as anti-abortion, rather than the ‘pro-life’ label she attaches to herself. Anyone who honestly calls herself pro-life would support the life saving procedures that Planned Parenthood provides, would support Obamacare and the medical services it provides to people who were previously uninsured, would support increased rather than decreased funding for programs for pregnant women and infants, and would be looking for ways to improve the regulation of weapon ownership to reduce gun violence in America, much of which is directed at women. Rep. Lummis betrays the interests of Wyoming women by joining with the incredibly ill-informed ‘old white men’ in her party who are trying to return us to the good old days of ‘barefoot and pregnant’ when men felt entitled to make all decisions for their wives and daughters. The frequency with which Ms. Richards was interrupted by many of the committee members is evidence of their lack of respect for women, as were their ridiculous comments on her salary. I am embarrassed by Rep. Lummis and deprived of representation by all three of our delegates to Washington, none of whom work to defend the freedoms, safety, health and education of Wyoming women. Unless a person is truly ‘pro-life’ for people of all ages and circumstances, there is no credible rationale for being anti-abortion. Without respecting all human life, it is just a way to control the lives of women.

    Linda Anderson

  8. Her views on Planned Parenthood are obvious. What’s most telling are her many interruptions, cutting short Ms. Richards’ responses. That’s a tell. What it tells us is that Lummis sensed her questions would be answered rationally, and rather than allowing that to happen—in which case Lummis would have nowhere to go—she cut responses off. Lummis knew her time limit, and loaded it with questions that, given the time structure and Lummis’ tactics, could not be fully answered. It appears she hoped to make a fool out of Richards; even though some of her questions were important, she blew her own credibility, not Richards’.

    Tammy Christel

  9. Ben Bernanke has an excellent description of Congressional hearings in his new book:

    “It was inevitable that they would ask questions for all sorts of purposes, but
    rarely because they were curious about the answer.”

    So true!

    Kay Garlow

  10. I agree that it seems Ms. Lummis is out of touch with many real Wyoming women; I would far rather have her “defend” Planned Parenthood as a women’s health option than “defund” it… It is unfortunate that the tone usually set by our state’s delegation sounds strident and alarmist rather than intellectually measured.
    Perhaps the Democrats should start getting viable candidates lined up now for all the years down the road?
    Thank you…

    Joy Ufford

  11. I too do not feel Rep. Lummis represents me or the majority of Wyomingites….but I also feel unless we find someone who is willing to run against her, we will continue on this path. Who is out there to challenge her for more fair and even Wyoming representation? Lets find that person NOW and begin the walk to election!

    Lee Ann Stephenson

  12. We only have ONE representative & somehow we keep electing people like Lummis & Cubin. Lummis is one of the wealthiest people in the House of Representatives & is clearly out of touch with her constituency. This is a state that prides itself on its live & let live attitude which should include minding your own business when it comes to women’s health & reproductive choices. Planned Parenthood is a wonderful organization that saves lives through cancer screenings, STD screening & treatment, & contraception. Abortion is a legal, medical procedure that some women choose. It is a private matter between a woman & her medical provider & it comprises less than 5% of the services PP provides. Between Lummis & the 2 chumps in the U.S. Senate, many of us in Wyoming feel that we have zero representation. They are all bought & paid for by special interest groups, namely big oil. Makes me embarrassed & sad for our state. I will continue with regular donations to Planned Parenthood AND I will continue to vote in every single election for the Democratic candidates.

    Elizabeth Shield

  13. I have to believe that Lummis has long ceased to work for the benefit of Wyoming people and that this performance is part of her scheming for a House leadership slot in the post-Boehner shake-up.

    Katharine Collins

  14. I just watched the video and I’m trying to find what Rep. Lummis asked that was objectionable. I thought her questions were not only relevant, but she also explained why they were important. The only reasonable complaint I could find was that she did step on Ms. Richards answers a few times, but that’s understandable given she only had 5 minutes. She even thanked the chairman for allowing Ms. Richards to answer her last question in full.

    Bruce Burns

  15. Thank you for providing the video excerpt, along with your clear and thoughtful commentary. I hope many of us will let Rep. Lummis know what we think of her behavior in this session. It’s tempting to just ignore it, but she has to hear from those of us who feel misrepresented.

    Karen Jerger

  16. Thank you again, Kerry, for a well written, spot-on editorial. Our Representative was particularly embarrassing this go-round. And the Chair of the subcommittee was clearly unhinged.

    Dave Throgmorton