Even in mid-pandemic, Republicans find time to attack Planned Parenthood
Proving that not even a deadly pandemic is an obstacle to advancing the forced-birther agenda, 27 senators led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton want Attorney General William Barr to investigate 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates. They assert these fraudulently obtained loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) set up to keep small businesses afloat in an economy mostly shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) They want the affiliates to give back the PPP money. And they suggest prosecution is their ultimate goal. Anything to stick it to an organization dedicated to ensuring that women’s reproductive freedom—including access to abortion—is not mere words on paper.
The Small Business Administration, which administers the PPP, has also sent a letter to those affiliates, saying that its preliminary look indicates they are ineligible for loans they have already received—reportedly some $80 million total. The letter warns that if an affiliate made a false claim in its application, the SBA might “refer the borrower for appropriate civil or criminal penalties.” A number of senators have pointed out that the SBA was given broad discretion in interpreting rules about who is and is not eligible. Quite arbitrary discretion it would seem.
At the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy, labeled the move a "clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care. It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations’ eligibility for Covid-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of Covid-19. It is also just the latest salvo in the Trump administration's long history of targeting Planned Parenthood, and trying to severely limit access to sexual and reproductive health care."
That’s not hyperbole. The senators’ true purpose is not concealed. Their letter states:
The Paycheck Protection Program established by the CARES Act was designed by Congress to help struggling small businesses and nonprofit organizations by giving them access to low-cost loans for expenses like keeping their employees on payroll during this pandemic. It was not designed to give government funds to politicized, partisan abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
Forced-birthers’ griping about politicization in this matter would be hilarious if they hadn’t engaged in a relentless 47-year-long battle to control women’s sexuality and reproductive health decisions in the wake of Roe v. Wade.
Back when the CARES Act to relieve financial pressure on Americans in the shutdown was being debated two months ago, Republicans inserted an exclusion on loans provided through the PPP part of the act. No enterprise or nonprofit that receives Medicaid funds was to be eligible. Democrats and reproductive rights activists rightly saw that as yet another of the long-standing attacks by forced-birthers on Planned Parenthood. The century-old organization’s affiliates receive Medicaid as well as local and state funds that help them provide reproductive, sexual, and some other basic health care to millions of mostly low-income people across the nation. Because the exclusion to block Planned Parenthood would also have affected other nonprofits, ultimately it was pried out of the final language.
That upset the anti-abortion crowd, but they were still convinced they had won a victory. One of their number, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, tweeted: "I’m not happy negotiators took out language that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving government subsidies. But I have been assured Planned Parenthood will still NOT be eligible."
This, however, is a matter of interpretation.
PPP loans are limited mostly to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. But it has discretion to determine whether some organizations with multiple locations, each with fewer than 500 employees, are eligible. Even though the loans have already been approved, SBA is now using its discretion to say that the thousands of employees who work for some four dozen Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide operate as one business, putting them over the cap on number of employees.
Steven Dickinson is a partner at the law firm Cozen O’Connor who has consulted with businesses that have applied for PPP funding. He told The Wall Street Journal that eligibility comes down to whether these scattered Planned Parenthood operations are truly unaffiliated. “Affiliation is a fact-based inquiry, and if in fact those 37 are separate 501(c)(3) organizations with their own leadership and their own board of directors, and they are independent of the national organization, it seems to me that they would not be affiliated” based on the SBA rules.
If Planned Parenthood affiliates are determined not to be eligible for the loans, what does that mean for affiliates of other organizations—the Girl Scouts, the YMCA, and the United Way, for instance? A spokeswoman for United Way told the Journal that the nonprofit is a federation of independent 501(c)(3) organizations making their operations eligible for PPP loans.
No word on letters from Cotton and McConnell to Attorney General Barr about those organizations.