LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Lawmakers in Washington convened the first congressional appearance by a Planned Parenthood official since videos began emerging this summer showing the organization's officials discussing how they provide fetal tissue for research.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the group's first public face-to-face encounter with Republicans since the videos elevated abortion — and a drive to block Planned Parenthood's federal payments — to a top-tier political issue.
On Capitol Hill, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lashed out at the organization for what he called "exorbitant" spending for salaries, travel, parties and lobbying - and not on providing health care to women.
"In 2013, they spent more than $5 million in travel. First class tickets, private chartered aircraft," said Chaffetz. "Roughly, they're spending $14,000 a day on travel."
Firing back, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president, said taxpayer money is used to provide sexual disease testing, contraceptives and other health care for women and said none of it is used for political activity.
Richards also claimed the videos released this summer showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing their provision of fetal tissue to medical researchers have prompted increased threats against clinics.
"These acts against women and health care providers don't reflect American values or the rule of law, and I hope this committee will condemn them," she told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
While the hearings continued in Washington, over 200 Planned Parenthood supporters, staff and volunteers rallied in downtown LA at Los Angeles City Hall South Lawn to show their support.
City Councilwoman Nury Martinez was among those participating in the rally, which was largely comprised of a mostly pro-choice crowd along with a small group of anti-abortion activists.
"It's a disappointment that we continue to have this fight and this assault against women by men and extremists in Congress," Martinez said.
"The babies are protected, their rights, as soon as they are born, but there is a possibility that these babies are being killed in order to, so their tissue can be sold," said anti-abortion activist Don Alexander.
Salinda Vazquez, a vice president of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO her organization will continue to provide its services regardless of how Congress decides to act.
"Planned Parenthood is going to take care of our patients no matter what," said Vazquez. "The patients need the federal funds because they are Medicaid and California Medi-Cal patients."
The organization receives about a third of its $1.3 billion annual budget, around $450 million, from federal coffers, chiefly reimbursements for treating Medicaid's low-income patients. Virtually no federal dollars can be used for abortions, according to the Associated Press.
"We don't just get a big check from the federal government. We like other Medicaid providers, we are reimbursed directly for services provided," Richards said.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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