West Virginia's Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin announced Monday that he will vote for a Republican-backed bill to halt all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
As a Democratic senator from a deeply conservative state, Manchin has often bucked the will of his party — in 2014, he called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats' most significant policy victory in a generation. But until today, Manchin had been a reliable ally of Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, including abortion in some states.
In 2011, Manchin voted against a budget bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, telling the Register Herald newspaper, "At the end of the day, I could not in all my good conscience, when I knew not one penny of your taxes was being used at Planned Parenthood to pay for abortions... I couldn’t tell the women who were dependent upon that health care, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take a chance on giving you your health care.’ I just couldn’t do it.”
But recently released videos highlighting Planned Parenthood's use of fetal tissue have changed Manchin's assessment of the organization. The edited hidden-camera films released by the anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress show some Planned Parenthood-affliated officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue to scientific researchers, often in a casual tone of voice.
"Like many West Virginians, I am very troubled by the callous behavior of Planned Parenthood staff in recently released videos," Manchin said in a statement. "Until these allegations have been answered and resolved, I do not believe that taxpayer money should be used to fund this organization; instead those funds should be sent to other health care providers, including community health centers, which provide important women’s healthcare services."
No federal law prohibits the donation of fetal tissue for scientific research, and donors are allowed to ask to be reimbursed for the costs of transferring tissue. However, it is illegal to profit off of such transfers. In the videos, Planned Parenthood representatives discuss prices that range from $50 to $100 — rates that the organization claims would not yield a profit.
As recently as the early 1990s, the use of fetal tissue for scientific research was a practice with broad bi-partisan support — Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once voted to dedicate federal funding for fetal tissue research.
Despite Manchin's support, the bill to defund Planned Parenthood is not expected to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to ward off a Democratic filibuster.