A congressional watchdog agency has agreed to investigate how Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights organizations spend Planned Parenthoodfederal funds, drawing praise from pro-life advocates inside and outside the legislative branch.

Members of Congress announced Monday (Aug. 5) the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had accepted their request for such an investigation. A GAO spokesman confirmed with Baptist Press Tuesday (Aug. 6) the nonpartisan agency had agreed to conduct the review.

Disclosure of the investigation comes at a time when Planned Parenthood’s use of government funds is drawing closer scrutiny. Only a week before, one of the affiliates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $4.3 million for alleged Medicaid fraud. Other Medicaid fraud suits are pending against Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading abortion provider.

Upon learning of the GAO’s decision to investigate, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore commended government officials “for asking how public funds are spent by the abortion lobby.”

“For years, the abortion-rights movement has told us they are about ‘choice’ and ‘getting the government out of their lives,'” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And yet, taxpayers have no choice in their hard-earned dollars subsidizing industries many of us consider to be horrific violators of human rights.

“A thorough investigation would be a good first step to examining our national conscience about what we’re paying for, and why,” he said in a written statement for Baptist Press. “The abortion industry is big business of the most sordid sort. They certainly don’t need a taxpayer bailout.”

The GAO’s agreement came in response to a February request for such a study by Rep. Diane Black, R.-Tenn., and more than 70 other congressional members. They asked for an update on a 2010 report regarding the federal agencies and programs that were the sources of the government funds, how the money was distributed and what services were provided by the abortion organizations.

The congressional members requested that information not only on PPFA but also on the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council, the Guttmacher Institute, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, and Advocates for Youth.

A January report by PPFA showed it established records for both the most abortions performed and most government funds received in the latest year for which statistics are available. PPFA said its affiliates performed 333,964 of the lethal procedures during 2010-11. It received $542.4 million in federal, state and local government grants and reimbursements during the latest fiscal year.

Black described federal funding of abortion providers as “a serious problem in our nation.” The GAO study is needed for Congress “to ensure accountability and oversight” of organizations that perform abortions, she said.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion organizations “clearly benefit from Uncle Sam, but there’s no accounting to prove how they actually use that money,” Sen. David Vitter, R.-La., said. “This GAO report would shine a light on how our tax dollars are being spent.”

Black and Vitter have introduced legislation that would bar federal family planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions. The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act is H.R. 217 in the House and S. 135 in the Senate. Black’s bill has 176 cosponsors, but Vitter’s has only nine.

The GAO has just started to decide on the “scope and methodology” of the investigation and will set an expected date to complete it after those determinations have been made, the agency spokesman said. The GAO is a nonpartisan agency that investigates how the federal government spends money.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC), which has clinics in southeast Texas and southern Louisiana, agreed to the out-of-court settlement of $4.3 million, the Houston Chronicle reported July 30. An investigation by the Texas attorney general’s office alleged the affiliate fraudulently overbilled the Medicaid program.

The settlement brought to at least $12.5 million the amount of “waste, abuse and ‘fraudulent overbilling’ of taxpayers” by Planned Parenthood affiliates in publicly revealed audits, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF has charged Planned Parenthood with misusing millions of dollars in government funds in a report to Congress.

Other ADF lawsuits contend Planned Parenthood affiliates have filed fraudulent claims for far more in government money. Its suit against Planned Parenthood of the Heartland — based in Des Moines, Iowa — alleges the organization filed nearly 500,000 false Medicaid claims and received nearly $28 million. Its legal action against Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, headquartered in Seattle, Wash., says damages could be more than $370 million from fraudulent claims.

ADF Senior Counsel Michael Norton called the settlement in the PPGC case “merely the tip of the iceberg.”

Planned Parenthood “uses taxpayer dollars to pad its bottom line with little regard for the health of women,” he said. “[It] has been improperly reimbursed by millions of taxpayer dollars over the years.”

Tom Strode, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention that is dedicated to addressing social and moral concerns and their implications on public policy issues from City Hall to Congress. The SBC is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the country with over 16 million members.