Impassioned Chaffetz in heated interview over Planned Parenthood

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Story highlights

  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Wednesday defended his grilling of Planned Parenthood's leader in a heated CNN interview
  • Planned Parent Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens hit back against House Republicans Wednesday

Washington (CNN)An impassioned Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Wednesday defended his grilling of Planned Parenthood's leader by saying it was motivated by budget concerns rather than abortion politics.

In a heated interview with CNN's Wolf Biltzer on "The Situation Room," Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he called Cecile Richards to testify because of the $450 million Planned Parenthood receives in federal funding, money that the Utah Republican said the women's health organization was misspending.
"It wasn't a hearing about the videos. The hearing was about the funding of Planned Parenthood," he said, listing off a litany of what he sees as unnecessary expenses. "They're doing all these things that don't go directly to women's health."
    Chaffetz, who said his mother died of breast cancer, said he had no patience for the caricature that Republicans don't care for women.
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    "I don't want to send the money overseas. I don't want them to be engaged in political activity. I want to fight and win the war on cancer," he said, his voice rising. "I am tired of getting lectured from these Democrats that try and say that we don't care about women. That is absolutely offensive."
    Earlier Wednesday, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president Dawn Laguens told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" that Richards faced "haranguing" by Republicans through the intense Hill hearing.
    It was "terrible optics," she said, for "five hours of haranguing and grilling Cecile Richards yesterday and not barely letting her get a word in edgewise where she was explaining very clearly what Planned Parenthood does, who Planned Parenthood serves and why Planned Parenthood is so important to the women, men and families of this country."
    Laguens' rebuttal comes just a day after Richards struggled through rapid-fire questions of everything from her six-figure salary and "lavish" spending by the group to accusations that her group broke the law by allegedly selling fetal tissue for research.
    Chaffetz repeatedly interrupted and talked over Richards Tuesday. A flash point came as he posted a graph allegedly showing that the number of abortions provided by the group allegedly overtook the number of cancer screenings and prevention services provided by Planned Parenthood under Richards' watch.
    Richards said she was blindsided by the graph and looked taken aback.
    "Well, it's the reduction over the course of years in pink, that's the reduction in the breast exams, and the red is the increase in the abortions. That's what's going on in your organization," Chaffetz fired back.
    He said the numbers came directly from Planned Parenthood's own corporate reports. But Richards fired back, saying that the graph was produced by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.
    "It doesn't feel like we're trying to get to the truth here," Richards said.
    The graph made it appear that abortions provided by Planned Parenthood grew to a much greater number from 2008 to 2013 than the number of cancer screenings and breast exam referrals made by Planned Parenthood.
    The number of cancer screenings and prevention services dropped by more than 50% over that period, but was still almost triple the number of abortions performed in 2013, according to Planned Parenthood corporate reports that Americans United for Life cited.
    The number of abortions rose by about 30,000 to roughly 327,000 in 2013, while the number of cancer screenings and prevention services dropped from roughly 2 million to 936,000 in 2013.
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    Chaffetz told Blitzer on Wednesday that the numbers were accurate, though he said he could see how the graph could be misinterpreted.
    Tuesday's hearing came in response to a series of edited, undercover videos posted by an anti-abortion group that purportedly show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
    Richards faced charges in the hearing that her group broke the law by profiting from the sale of the tissue. The public grilling was coupled with the release of a report by the Oversight committee showing more than $40 million of spending on corporate offices in New York City, travel and "lavish" parties.
    Richards kept her cool through the display, but House Democrats acted as her proxy throughout the hearing. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, flatly accused his colleagues of "misogyny" for questioning Richards' $590,000 salary.
    Richards also faced criticism regarding her apology posted online after the videos surfaced, with Republicans accusing her of failing to fully apologize for the content of the videos.
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    "What Cecile Richards said yesterday was what she apologized for was that those were clinical comments in a non-clinical, non-confidential setting and we talked to those doctors about that," Laguens said.
    After defending the organization's practices, Laguens went on the offensive and repeatedly slammed Republicans during the interview for their behavior Tuesday and their aim to defund Planned Parenthood.
    "What I thought we saw yesterday from the Republican majority was evidence that they don't understand women, they certainly don't understand women's health, and they certainly don't understand the very programs they oversee like Medicaid," Laguens said.