Meet Anti-Choice Crusader Rep. Cliff Stearns

October 07, 2011 1:21 pm ET

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, may not be the most visible opponent of reproductive rights, but his recently launched investigation into Planned Parenthood and its affiliates has brought to light his extensive anti-choice record. In the wake of lobbying efforts by social conservative groups, Stearns has requested years of the reproductive health care provider's financial and policy records — a transparent attempt to find an excuse to deprive the organization of funding and disrupt its services. Meet Cliff Stearns, a new Tea Party caucus member and pawn of the right currently leading the crusade against women's rights.

Background

Stearns Was Elected In 1988, Serves As Oversight And Investigations Subcommittee Chairman In The Energy And Commerce Committee. From Rep. Stearns' biography on his U.S. House of Representatives website:

Cliff Stearns was elected in 1988 to the U.S. House of Representatives, his only elected office. [...]

For the 112th Congress, Stearns is the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. ... In addition, he serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. [Stearns.House.gov accessed 10/6/11]

Stearns Served In The U.S. Air Force, Ran A "Motel/Restaurant Business." From Rep. Stearns' biography on his U.S. House of Representatives website:

He participated in U.S. Air Force ROTC on scholarship at GWU and was honored as the Air Force ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate. Following graduation, he served four years in the U.S. Air Force as an aerospace engineer in satellite reconnaissance during the Vietnam War.

He left the service with the rank of Captain, and then worked in the private sector before starting his own business by purchasing a motel. He sold his first property, moved to Florida, and started a successful motel/restaurant business in the Ocala/Gainesville area. [Stearns.House.gov, accessed 10/6/11]

Stearns Is A Member Of Rep. Michele Bachmann's House Tea Party Caucus. From the Miami Herald: "The congressional Tea Party Caucus was announced today and two Florida lawmakers are among the group: Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala. The caucus is led by Michele Bachmann, R-Minn." [Miami Herald, 7/21/10, emphasis original]

Stearns' Connections To Anti-Choice Groups

Americans United for Life

Americans United For Life:  "The First National Pro-Life Organization In The United States." From Americans United for Life's website:

Founded in 1971 as the first national pro-life organization in the United States, Americans United for Life (AUL) is a nonprofit, public-interest law and policy organization whose vision is a nation in which everyone is welcomed in life and protected in law. [...]

Currently, we are working with pro-life lawmakers to compose and pass legislation that would:

  • Mandate standards for abortion clinics to protect the health and safety of women and correct often substandard conditions.
  • Protect the rights of conscience of all healthcare professionals.
  • Protect parental rights, ensuring parents and guardians are involved in medical decisions of children.
  • Protect unborn victims from criminal violence, including homicide.
  • Ban all forms of human cloning.
  • Promote adult stem cell, cord blood and other forms of life-affirming stem cell research.
  • Prevent euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Inform women of the health risks of abortion including the link between abortion and breast cancer.

[Americans United for Life, accessed 10/6/11]

Stearns Launched Investigation After He "Was Asked To Look Into Planned Parenthood By Americans United For Life." According to the Florida Independent: "Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, has asked the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, for the organization's financial and policy records as part of an investigation into the chain of clinics. Stearns chairs a subcommittee on oversight and investigations in the U.S. House. Stearns was asked to look into Planned Parenthood by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion rights group that put together a report with the aim of convincing members of Congress to defund Planned Parenthood." [Florida Independent, 9/30/11]

  • Goal Of Investigation Is To Strip Planned Parenthood Of "All Public Money Now And Forever." According to the American Independent:

Conservative policy group Americans United for Life's stated plans to help defund Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) one state at a time were amplified Thursday with the release of a report citing supposed violations of federal-funding rules by the national family planning and abortion provider. AUL is calling for Congress to launch an investigation against Planned Parenthood, with the hopeful outcome of stripping the organization of all public money now and forever.

The majority of the allegations in this report are not new - many of the claims of wrongdoing date back several years - but they have been organized into deliberate categories and bolstered by a 144-page appendix that consists of financial and annual statements from Planned Parenthood since the early 1990s; documents including old court records and memos, as well as clandestinely recorded conversations between Planned Parenthood employees and Live Action members posing as minors. [American Independent, 7/7/11, emphasis added]

Live Action

Live Action Is A Self-Described "Youth Led Movement Dedicated To Building A Culture Of Life And Ending Abortion." From Live Action's website:

WHO WE ARE: We are a youth led movement dedicated to building a culture of life and ending abortion, the greatest human rights injustice of our time. We use new media to educate the public about the humanity of the unborn and investigative journalism to expose threats against the vulnerable and defenseless. [LiveAction.org, accessed 10/6/11]

Rep. Stearns Cited Live Action Videos Purporting To Show "Planned Parenthood's Cover-Up Of Child Sex Trafficking." From a February 10, 2011, press release from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL):

In response to videos produced by Live Action showing Planned Parenthood workers willing to conspire in sex trafficking, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) joined other members in calling for the defunding of that organization. At a news conference today hosted by Live Action and Susan B. Anthony List, Stearns stated that he plans to call the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius, to testify on taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and that organization's tolerance of sex trafficking and other criminal activities.  Stearns is Chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over HHS, and the hearing will be scheduled soon.

"Taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood is increasing, rising from $337 million in 2008 to $363.2 million in 2009," said Stearns. "We have a $14 trillion national debt while running a deficit this year of $1.5 trillion - Planned Parenthood is an egregious abuse of taxpayer funds.  Not only does this organization provide about one in every five abortions in this nation, its centers have also been caught violating state sexual assault and child abuse reporting laws, and it has encouraged young girls to lie about their ages to circumvent state reporting laws."

The undercover videos from Live Action expose Planned Parenthood's cover-up of child sex trafficking.  In one, a Planned Parenthood manager coaches a man and woman posing as sex traffickers in how to obtain abortions and other services for child sex workers.  "Taxpayers are demanding to know how their money is being spent and these videos answer how Planned Parenthood uses public dollars." [Stearns.House.gov, 2/10/11, emphasis added]

Stearns Used Live Action Videos To Threaten HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius With A Personal Investigation. From Politico:

On Thursday, Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns demanded that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explain the videos in which anti-abortion activists with the group Live Action pose as pimps and secretly record their conversations with workers at the family planning organization. [...]

Stearns threatened to ask the Department of Justice to investigate Sebelius if she refuses to answer questions before the Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which he heads. 

"We're going to bring Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, put her under oath in the spring and ask her to explain what is she doing about these videos," Stearns said Thursday, flanked by anti-abortion activists at a press conference on Capitol Hill, including the president of the group that recorded and released the videos. 

"We're not going to wait for Attorney General [Eric] Holder to do anything," he added, as supporters clapped and cheered. "And if she lies, then we're going to ask the attorney general to investigate her.

Sebelius, whose agency oversees grants to Planned Parenthood, has appeared before the Senate health and education committee, but hasn't yet testified in the GOP-dominated House. [Politico, 2/10/11, emphasis added]

Stearns Thanked Live Action For Research, Called For The Defunding Of Planned Parenthood. From a blog post by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) titled "Defund Planned Parenthood" on BigGovernment.com:

Thanks to Live Action, a group of young people dedicated to strengthening the culture of life, we learn from undercover videos that Planned Parenthood is all too willing to ignore the law in promoting its services, among them abortion.

Working with Live Action, a man and woman posed as sex traffickers at a Planned Parenthood center and asked about abortions and other services for their child sex workers.  Instead being reported for what appeared to be a horrendous sexual exploitation of children, the pair received information on how to arrange abortions for their child sex workers.

This just adds to Planned Parenthood's record of violating state sexual assault and child abuse reporting laws, and of encouraging young girls to lie about their ages to circumvent state reporting laws.

Although Planned Parenthood eventually ordered new training for its employees, I have a better solution - defund it. [BigGovernment.com, 2/12/11, emphasis added]

Planned Parenthood Reported Potential Sex Trafficking To FBI After Visits From Live Action. From a press release titled "Planned Parenthood Informs Federal Authorities of Potential Sex Trafficking," released on January 24, 2011:

Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) alerted federal authorities to a potential multistate sex trafficking ring.  Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring.  Subsequent to alerting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood learned the identify of one of those involved and believes these visits are likely a hoax by opponents of legal abortion seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to three million women each year.

Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame.  During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally.  These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing.  

"When Planned Parenthood learns of an operation that exploits young women, we vigilantly work with law enforcement authorities to uncover and stop this abhorrent activity," said Stuart Schear, PPFA vice president for communications.  "Planned Parenthood's top priority is the health and safety of our patients and the health and well-being of women and teens across the country, and we have been in contact with federal and local authorities to identify the persons involved in these visits." [PlannedParenthood.org, 1/24/11, emphasis added]

In Addition To Reporting  Live Action Visits, Planned Parenthood Fired Employee Seen In Video. As reported by the New York Times:

Planned Parenthood has fired a clinic manager who was seen on videotape advising a man posing as a sex trafficker, and anti-abortion groups seized on the episode to step up their campaign to cut off public financing for the organization.

The manager was videotaped covertly in a clinic in Perth Amboy, N.J., by actors working for an anti-abortion group, Live Action. The manager gave advice on how to get medical care for under-age prostitutes. The tape's release on Tuesday embarrassed Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptives, gynecological care, cancer screening and abortions across the country, mainly to low-income women.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said that immediately after the "highly unusual" visit, its affiliate had notified prosecutors.

The organization said last week that people claiming to be sex traffickers visited at least 12 of its clinics in six states in January and that it had concluded that the visits were a hoax by Live Action. But Planned Parenthood officials expressed dismay at the statements of the office manager in the videotape, and fired her on Tuesday night. [New York Times, 2/2/11]

Stearns' History Of Supporting Anti-Choice Measures

Stearns Applauded U.S. Supreme Court For Upholding Partial Birth Abortion Bans, Called Practice "Legal Infanticide."  From a 2007 press release from Stearns:

"The U.S. Supreme Court decision today upholding the ban on partial birth abortion is a major step toward acknowledging the sanctity of human life," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Ocala).  "The gruesome procedure of partial birth abortion has been used as legal infanticide in our nation, it is a procedure in which an infant is partially removed from the birth canal and then killed prior to complete delivery." 

Stearns joined in approving the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003, which was signed by the President.  Six federal courts had ruled that this ban is an impermissible restriction on the constitutional right to an abortion.  The Supreme Court upheld the ban by a 5 to 4 decision.  Added Stearns, "Life is precious and deserves protection.  We especially have an obligation to speak out for those without a voice." [Stearns.House.gov, 4/18/07]

Stearns Supported Former President Bush's Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Veto. From a 2006 press release from Stearns:

"It is not justifiable to destroy an innocent life in pursuit of research that could save other lives," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Ocala).  "There are alternative sources of stem cells that hold promise for breakthroughs in life-saving treatments while preserving an ethical line protecting human life."

Stearns voted today to sustain the President's veto of H.R. 810, which proposed federal funding for research that requires the destruction of human embryos.  The House tried to overturn the veto, but that effort failed to receive the required two-thirds support.

Added Stearns, "We are already providing federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines that had already been created from destroyed embryos.  There are 78 of these lines and only 22 of them are being used in federally funded research.  These lines have proved so useful that they are used in 85 percent of the world's published embryonic stem cell studies.  In addition, there is nothing in law preventing private funding of embryonic stem cell research." [Stearns.House.gov, 7/19/06]

Stearns Supported Measure To Prohibit Minors Crossing State Lines To Receive An Abortion Without Parental Notification. From a 2005 press release from Stearns:

"Parents are responsible for their children, and we should help parents meet their responsibilities," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Ocala).  "That is why nearly half of the states have enacted laws requiring parental notification or parental consent before a child can receive an abortion.  However, individuals who take a child into a state without such laws in order to obtain an abortion are circumventing these laws.  This measure ensures that these parents remain involved regarding a surgical procedure on their children."

The House today approved H.R. 748, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act.  This measure makes it a violation of federal law to transport a minor girl across state lines for the purpose of procuring an abortion, if this is done to evade a parental notification or parental consent law that is in effect in the girl's home state.  H.R. 748 also requires that in a state without a parental notification requirement, before an abortion provider may perform an abortion on a minor girl who is the resident of a different state, that provider must notify a parent.  There is an exception if the child has already received authorization from a judge in her home state, or if she falls into carefully crafted exceptions to cover cases of abuse or medical emergencies. [Stearns.House.gov, 4/27/05]

Stearns Sponsored Bill To Help Crisis Pregnancy Centers Purchase Ultrasound Equipment. From the American Independent:

The Informed Choice Act, introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) in January, would authorize grants "to nonprofit tax-exempt organizations for the purchase of ultrasound equipment to provide free examinations to pregnant women needing such services, and for other purposes." According to the current draft of the bill, which as of yet has no co-sponsor, qualifying centers would receive 50 percent of the purchase price of the ultrasound machine involved, or $20,000, whichever is less. The bill appropriates $5 million for this initiative for fiscal year 2012 and "such sums as may be necessary for each of the fiscal years 2013 through 2014."

To qualify, these centers must prove they provide medical services to pregnant women "under the guidance and supervision of a physician who serves as the medical director of the clinic and is duly licensed to practice medicine in the State in which the entity is located."

But as The American Independent and our network affiliates have previously reported, many of these crisis pregnancy centers offer little more than "counseling services" (against abortion) from nonprofessional volunteers. [American Independent, 3/22/11]

  • Many Crisis Centers "Provide Women With False And Misleading Information To Dissuade Them From Having An Abortion." From Mother Jones:

A bill that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced in January would provide federal funds for the purchase of sonogram machines at organizations that counsel women against having an abortion (the American Independent reported on this bill last week). These crisis pregnancy outfits, sometimes called "pregnancy resource centers," are often run by religious groups; many have been found to provide women with false and misleading information to dissuade them from having an abortion.

The preamble of Stearns' bill makes it sound as though any nonprofit, tax-exempt organization could apply to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for grants to purchase ultrasound equipment. But the bill comes with stipulations. To be eligible for this grant, a facility would have to show every woman seeking services the ultrasound image and describe to them the "general anatomical and physiological description of the characteristics of the fetus." The facility would be required to provide women with "alternatives to abortion such as childbirth and adoption and information concerning public and private agencies that will assist in those alternatives." It also must offer its services free of charge. That last condition would disqualify abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, which charges on a sliding scale based on a woman's income. [Mother Jones, 3/28/11]

Stearns Has A Consistently Anti-Choice Voting Record

NARAL Lists Stearns As Anti-Choice. From the NARAL Pro-Choice Voter Guide for congressional races:

Rep. Cliff Stearns ... is anti-choice.

  • Rep. Stearns voted for theStupak abortion banin health-care reform.
  • 2009 Congressional Record on Choice score = 0
  • Rep. Stearns is a cosponsor of the new "Stupak on Steroids" legislation, a bill that would effectively end abortion coverage in the private insurance market nationwide and make it even harder for survivors of rape and incest to receive abortion care. 
[NARAL, accessed 10/5/11, emphasis original]

Rep. Stearns Has Consistently Voted Against The Interests Of Pro-Choice Organizations. Project Vote Smart reports that Stearns' votes consistently earn him a score of "zero percent" on measures of his support for the interests of organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.[VoteSmart.org, accessed 10/5/11]

Rep. Stearns Has Supported The Interests Of The Pro-Life National Right To Life Committee 100 Percent Of The Time Since 1996. Project Vote Smart reports that Stearns has consistently "supported the interests of the National Right To Life Committee" 100 percent of the time. [VoteSmart.org, accessed 10/5/11]

Stearns Has Touted Support From Extremist Right-Wing Groups

Stearns Touted Award From The Family Research Council For His "Commitment To The Family" And Support Of "Public Policy That Values Human Life."  From a 2008 press release from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL):

The Family Research Council Action and Focus on the Family Action recognizes Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Sixth) with the "True Blue" Award for his "unwavering commitment to the family." According to Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins, "Members who received this award have been consistent, stalwart allies of American families. These Members are to be commended for supporting public policy that values human life, protects our religious liberties, and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Values voters should be encouraged by these Members who have shown a commitment to protecting and strengthening the family."

"I am proud of my record on behalf of the family and our traditional values, and I am honored to receive this award," said Stearns. "I am committed to protecting the unborn, preserving the institution of marriage, and making the family more secure." [Stearns.House.gov, 10/17/08]

  • The Family Research Council Is An Anti-Gay Hate Group. From Talking Points Memo:

The Family Research Council is perhaps the most prominent voice in conservative social politics and the hosts of an annual rite of passage for many Republicans who hope to run for president. And now, FRC is on the same Southern Poverty Law Center list of hate groups as the Ku Klux Klan.

The SPLC gave the Family Research Council the designation due to anti-gay speech from its leaders, which the SPLC says includes calls for gay men and lesbians to be imprisoned. [...]

Groups are labeled hate groups by the SPLC -- which made a name for itself by using civil lawsuits to severely weaken the KKK and other white supremacist groups -- when they "have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics," according to the group's website. [Talking Points Memo, 11/24/10]

Read more about the Family Research Council's bigotry HERE and HERE.

Stearns Touted Award From Nativist Group U.S. English. From a 2010 press release from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL):

Rep. Cliff Stearns has been recognized by U.S. English, Inc. for his dedication to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States. Rep. Stearns was one of a select number of House members honored with an "A in English" award based on his votes and co-sponsorship of official English legislation in the 111th Congress. [...]

"A in English" honors were awarded to members who received "A" grades on the U.S. English, Inc. legislative scorecard for the 111th Congress. Legislation that factored into the decision included co-sponsorship of H.R. 997, the English Language Unity Act, as well as a series of Congressional votes on Puerto Rican statehood and preventing the removal of an English language requirement for citizenship. [Stearns.House.gov, 10/5/11]

  • U.S. English Was Founded By John Tanton, Who Is Affiliated With Multiple Anti-Immigrant Hate Groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. English is part of the "Tanton network" of groups founded and/or funded by John Tanton, whose "network" of anti-immigration organizations includes five hate groups. [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 10/6/11]

Recent Controversies

Stearns Endorsed A Stimulus-Funded Energy Department Grant Of $95.5 Million For A Clean Energy Plant In His District. From ThinkProgress:

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who is also leading an investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee, backed two separate clean energy projects for his state:

Stearns, who heads the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, endorsed a battery manufacturing plant in Jacksonville. The Saft America Inc. plant makes lithium-ion battery cells for military hybrid vehicles and solar and wind energy storage. The plant received a $95.5 million grant from the Energy Department through the stimulus law.

Stearns and other lawmakers from Florida also backed a Florida company's bid to win a loan guarantee for biofuel refinery plant in central Florida. New Planet BioEnergy LLC received $50 million from the Energy Department and a $75 million loan guarantee from the Agriculture Department.

McConnell, Stearns and Vitter are defending themselves by explaining that the companies they've supported haven't gone bankrupt or been raided by the FBI. Fair enough. But their lobbying for funds in the cleantech sector completely undermines the argument that Democrats are trying to pick winners and losers - or that the stimulus package didn't work. [ThinkProgress, 9/20/11, emphasis original]

Stearns Amendment Required 9/11 First Responders To Be Checked Against Terrorist Watch List Before Receiving Medical Compensation. According to Huffington Post:

A provision in the new 9/11 health bill may be adding insult to injury for people who fell sick after their service in the aftermath of the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, The Huffington Post has learned.

The tens of thousands of cops, firefighters, construction workers and others who survived the worst terrorist assault in U.S. history and risked their lives in its wake will soon be informed that their names must be run through the FBI's terrorism watch list, according to a letter obtained by HuffPost.

Any of the responders who are not compared to the database of suspected terrorists would be barred from getting treatment for the numerous, worsening ailments that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Law was passed to address.

It's a requirement that was tacked onto the law during the bitter debates over it last year. [...]

The provision was added in an amendment by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) during the heated debate over the bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee last May. [Huffington Post, 4/21/11]

Stearns Says "We Can't Compete With China" On Clean Energy. From Politico:

"We can't compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines," Stearns said on NPR on Monday. Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce oversight subpanel investigating the Solyndra affair, has long criticized renewable energy subsidies.

DOE press secretary Damien LaVera flagged the quote for POLITICO in an email to several reporters. [...]

LaVera compared the Stearns quote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu's remarks Saturday at the Solar Decathlon in D.C. where Chu attempted to rally America's solar industry.

"Some say this is a race America can't win. They're ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat. ... I challenge the naysayers to come to this Solar Decathlon, visit these houses, feel the student energy, touch their creativity and tell them they can't win," Chu said. "These people are not here to give up. They're here to win the clean energy race. ... It's not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies - we have to make them and use them too. Invented in America, made in America and sold around the world - that's how we'll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century." [Politico, 10/4/11, emphasis added]

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