Bathroom bill, abortion funding targeted by activists’ lobbying

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BOSTON – More than 50 Bay State residents, all with passionately held pro-family views, rallied in the State House Wednesday and fanned out to lobby lawmakers on bills that could affect public funding for abortion providers, the future of sex education, and personal privacy while expanding access for transgender persons to public bathrooms and school locker rooms.

The Massachusetts Family Institute and its president, Andrew Beckwith, led the day of advocacy among members of the House of Representatives and Senate. Topping the activists’ list of legislation was a proposal introduced last month by state Rep. James Lyons (R-Andover) demanding an end to the practice of steering taxpayer money to a leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.

Following the airing of several undercover videos purporting to show officials of the tax-exempt women’s health organization openly acknowledging the practice of selling fetal organs and body parts to research clinics, several states halted the flow of state taxpayer money into its coffers.

Earlier this week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a Planned Parenthood public funding ban into law, making the Buckeye State the 10th to take that action and drawing the ire of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. She accused Kasich, a Republican presidential contender in Tuesday’s primary election, of “proudly eliminating care for expectant mothers and newborns” in addition to a host of other health services.

But Beckwith pointed out that his organization and other pro-life advocacy groups aren’t trying to block women’s access to health care. He referred to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid statistics that show that Massachusetts is home to about 270 federally qualified health clinics that don’t provide abortions.

“These are places that aren’t going to make health-care decisions when treating a woman that are based upon whether her fetus comes out intact or not because they can get more money out of it,” Beckwith said.

In the current fiscal year, $5.3 million has been earmarked “for the provision of family health services” in the state budget.

The online version available for viewing at the state Legislature’s website doesn’t say exactly where that money is headed, but a review of spending statistics available from the Massachusetts Open Checkbook website shows that as of Feb. 16, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts has spent more than $1.1 million in state funds since the July 1 start of fiscal 2016.

Over the preceding three fiscal years, records show Planned Parenthood received nearly $6.8 million in state funding.

Beckwith also recounted the experience of one advocate during Wednesday’s lobbying in which she was assured by a lawmaker that taxpayer dollars weren’t being handed to Planned Parenthood.

“One woman brought this bill up to her state legislator, who I won’t name, and he said, ‘hey, don’t worry – Planned Parenthood is not in the budget,’ but that’s obviously not the case,” Beckwith said. “She explained it to him and he was amazed.”

“This stuff is byzantine – I had to ask Jim Lyons’ aide to walk me through it,” Beckwith said. “We’re even educating representatives here today.”

Part of that money helps ensure healthy paychecks for five top employees at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, where Lyons said their salaries range from $160,000 to $250,000 a year.

“We’re very specific in our legislation that we don’t want money to go to Planned Parenthood,” Lyons said in an interview Wednesday. The bill was filed with state Rep. Joseph D. McKenna (R-Webster).

Despite the Democratic control of the House, Lyons said, “at some point it will have to have a hearing and at that point we’ll make the case as to why.”

The most recent filings to the federal Internal Revenue Service available, for 2013, show that Dianne Luby, then the state Planned Parenthood chief executive, received more than $272,000 in pay while the organization listed more than $32 million in assets.

Lyons pointed out that Luby’s successor, former state Rep. Martha M. Walz (D-Boston), moved into the post after sponsoring a bill that established so-called buffer zones around Planned Parenthood clinics in Massachusetts to deter pro-life protesters.

The U.S. Supreme Court later determined that such buffer zones were unconstitutional.

As for Planned Parenthood’s funding, Lyons questioned the propriety of using tax dollars to pay for procedures that a significant segment of the public opposes.

“I also think people are starting to take notice of the size of the organization,” he said a about the clinic operator. “You’ve got an organization that has $32 million worth of assets and their executives making these types of salaries. At the same time, we can’t fund education or meals-on-wheels for our seniors – we’re spending millions each year to fund Planned Parenthood?”

A hearing date has not yet been set for the Lyons-McKenna bill.