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Senate Votes Down Plan to Strip Planned Parenthood Funds

Image: A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen in Vista, California

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California, on August 3. MIKE BLAKE / Reuters

The Senate voted down a bill Monday that would take away more than $500 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood after activists published a series of “sting” videos targeting the group.

The Senate voted 53-46, falling seven votes short of the 60 needed to pass the bill.

“We are very proud to have a bipartisan group of senators supporting us today,” Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards said before the vote.

It wasn’t the first effort to take funding away from Planned Parenthood, which operates around 700 health clinics that treat 2.7 million patients a year. But the series of videos published by the Center for Medical progress, an anti-abortion rights group, have unprecedented reach in a world where almost anyone can see them on YouTube.

The Center for Medical Progress admits the videos are edited and has released some full-length versions, as well as transcripts. The group claims the videos show Planned Parenthood illegally profits from selling tissue from aborted fetuses, although the full-length versions clearly show the Planned Parenthood staffers repeatedly denying this.

“We are 100 percent nonprofit. We make zero profit from any fetal tissue donation,” Richards told NBC News.

“This wasn’t an effort to discover wrongdoing. This was a three-year effort to create wrongdoing and it was unsuccessful.”

“This wasn’t an effort to discover wrongdoing. This was a three-year effort to create wrongdoing and it was unsuccessful.”

Perhaps the bigger impact comes from seeing the activists, posing as buyers, speaking in joking terms with doctors and other Planned Parenthood staffers about using the tissue.

“It sickens me to see what’s been going on with Planned Parenthood,” Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is running for president, said during debate on the bill. “This debate isn’t just about abortion. This debate is about little babies that haven’t given their consent.”

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who sponsored the bill, said the videos “hit at the moral fabric of our society”. "The American taxpayer should not be asked to fund an organization like Planned Parenthood that has shown a sheer disdain for human dignity and complete disregard for women and their babies,” she said.

Despite the controversy, 45 percent of Americans polled by NBC and the Wall Street Journal said they viewed Planned Parenthood somewhat or very positively and 20 percent said they were neutral. Thirty percent of the 1,000 adults polled said they had a negative view of the group.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood say the group’s clinics are the sole source of health care for thousands of women and say diverting federal funds to other clinics will leave them without any source of medical attention.

Planned Parenthood Under Fire Again as New Undercover Video Surfaces 2:08

A study by Kari White at the University of Alabama, Birmingham supports the argument. They showed that when Texas restricted access to family planning clinics in 2011, 25 percent of the state’s family planning clinics closed. “In 2011, 71 percent of organizations widely offered long-acting reversible contraception; in 2012–2013, only 46 percent did,” they wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.

Abortions account for just 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood. Federal law prohibits the use of any federal money for these services. About 41 percent of the group’s funding comes from government sources.

“This is all about politics,” Richards told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.

While two Democrats voted for the bill -- West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Indiana's Joe Donnelly -- most passionately opposed it. “Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s?” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked Senate Republicans.

“This legislation is going nowhere,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said in arguments leading up to the vote.

“We will not tolerate this attack on women’s health care in the guise of stopping abortion,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, argued.

Separately, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who is running for president, said the state would sever its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood. "It has become clear that this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state," Jindal said.

Nathalia Holt, a microbiologist who wrote “Cured: The People Who Defeated HIV”, says she has worked with tissue from aborted fetuses.

“Scientists can’t control whether or not an abortion takes place, those decisions aren’t made by scientists, and they are made by the women who go through this procedure,” she told NBC News.

“And the women that go through this go through informed consent and decide to have this tissue donated to science.”

Holt pointed out the abortions are taking place regardless of whether the tissue is used for research. “It can potentially save lives, or be incinerated in medical trash,” she said. “And many researchers are using the analogy of organ donation,” she added.