AUGUSTA, Maine — Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said Thursday in a searing statement to the media that Congress should defund Planned Parenthood following controversial videos released this summer that Deeley called “sickening” and “evil.”

National Planned Parenthood leaders have decried the videos as misleading, stating that they were edited to rally anti-abortion groups and provide political cover for efforts to erode reproductive rights established by U.S. courts.

Deeley’s comments come as the U.S. House and Senate prepare to debate a budget bill that some Republicans have vowed to block unless it eliminates taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Failure of the overall budget bill could lead to a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1.

“I call on those who distribute the resources from the taxes we all pay to examine this issue and remove any funding which supports such evil as the harvesting of organs from an unborn child,” said Deeley in a written statement distributed Thursday to reporters.

“The videos clearly display the dehumanizing effect that abortion and the scandalous trade of human body parts have on women who have abortions and the unborn whose lives are ended before they see light,” said Deeley. “This is not health care for women.”

Deeley suggested that the services provided by Planned Parenthood — excluding abortions — could be covered by other entities.

Nicole Clegg, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, called that assertion “simply not realistic” in Maine.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England provides health care to about 10,000 patients in Maine, 62 percent of whom have incomes of less than $17,505 per year.

About half of the organization’s patients in Maine fall below the federal poverty level and receive free services such as counseling and contraception, a range of testing and screenings, annual gynecological exams and pregnancy testing. According to Clegg, that service amounted to more than $3.5 million in free or discounted care to patients in Maine.

Clegg wrote in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News that no woman should be “shamed or judged” for having an abortion.

“Abortion is a deeply personal decision and must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor or health care provider,” wrote Clegg. “Every pregnancy is unique, and every woman’s decision about her pregnancy — whether to parent, choose adoption or have an abortion — should be respected and valued. No woman should feel shamed or judged because of her decision.”

Though Maine has fewer residents who claim a religious affiliation — about 28 percent — than any other state in the nation, census data shows that more Mainers identify as Catholics than any other religion. According to 2010 census data, there are 190,000 members of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. That compares with about 94,000 members of Mainline Protestant denominations, which rank second.

Deeley invoked the words of Pope Francis, who is scheduled to address Congress later this month during a historic visit that will surely draw more attention to the Planned Parenthood funding issue.

“Pope Francis has called abortion the product of a ‘widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many,’” said Deeley. “People have dignity and, in the words of the Holy Father, ‘are worth far more than things and are above price.’”

Clegg said that one in five American women visit Planned Parenthood for services.

“Our doors are open to every family and every community,” wrote Clegg. “At Planned Parenthood, we work hard to make sure women can make their own decisions about their health and family without shame, judgment or stigma.”

Clegg and a group called Catholics for Choice said that Pope Francis’ announcement earlier this month giving priests the discretion to forgive women who have had abortions and seek absolution during the coming Roman Catholic church’s holy year shows that the Vatican is adapting on the issue.

“It’s abundantly clear and the statistics are stark: What Catholics practice is different than the dictates of the bishops,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, in a written statement. “A long time ago, Catholic women around the world worked out that they can make moral and ethical decisions about sexual and reproductive issues. Catholic women know that they can in good conscience disagree with the hierarchy and still be good Catholics in good faith.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, who is Catholic, said in response to questions from the BDN that he has heard statements and concerns similar to Deeley’s during his travels through Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

“That’s why I sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services secretary, Sylvia Burwell, demanding a report on how federal tax dollars are distributed to Planned Parenthood and to know what management safeguards are in place to ensure that no federal funding is used for illegal operations,” said Poliquin in a written statement.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins repeated her previous position of calling for defunding only Planned Parenthood clinics found to have “violated federal law or medical ethics.” She said she has called for a Department of Justice investigation of seven of about 700 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide that are thought to be involved in the procurement of fetal tissue for research. Collins, who has been an ally of Planned Parenthood and has received high marks from the organization, attracted criticism earlier this year for a losing procedural vote that would have advanced a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Collins has said she would have subsequently voted against the bill.

“These videos of some Planned Parenthood personnel are deeply troubling and raise questions about the ethics and legality of the small number of Planned Parenthood’s clinics involved in the procurement of fetal tissue,” said Collins in a written statement to the BDN. “The activity has no relationship to Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing health care to millions of American women by offering family planning, cancer screenings and well-women care.”

Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett could not be reached for an interview on Thursday but said through a spokesman that he supports Deeley’s right to comment on the issue.

The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976 and amended since then, essentially bans the use of federal funds for abortion except in the case of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.


Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.