1. Opinion

Ruth: Scott's investigation of Planned Parenthood all about politics

Think of this as Gov. Rick Scott's Planned Parenthood Emily Litella moment.

After weeks of railing against Planned Parenthood and accusing the agency of performing illegal abortions, late last week Stewart Williams, the general counsel for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, was forced to concede the procedures in question being performed in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers were — ahem — perfectly legal after all. A day later, Williams seemed to take that back and said the organization remains under investigation and the agency still believes unlicensed abortions were performed.

Let us stipulate abortion remains a fractious bone of contention in this country. There are well-meaning people on both sides of the debate. It is equally true abortion remains a legal alternative to women who wish to terminate their pregnancies despite efforts on the part of many states — including Florida — to make the procedure more difficult to access.

The dustup over Planned Parenthood began several weeks ago with the release of some covertly recorded and selectively edited video of agency employees in other states rather cavalierly discussing the sale of fetal organs. It was hardly one of Planned Parenthood's shining moments, although it is no secret the organization does indeed assist women in obtaining abortions. And it is not news Planned Parenthood does provide fetal tissue for medical research, although not in Florida.

Still the optics of Planned Parenthood employees blithely discussing fetal tissue between sips of white wine at some tony restaurant created a public relations disaster. That was quickly exploited by Scott, who ordered an investigation into the group's Florida operations.

Politics? And Planned Parenthood in the same sentence? Noooooo!

After all, Scott broke with established AHCA protocols by very publicly declaring he wanted Planned Parenthood clinics investigated. You know, AHCA is old-fashioned about this kind of stuff, oddly believing it is probably a good idea if the subject of an investigation is unaware it is being investigated. But Scott was less concerned with ferreting out potential wrongdoing than he was in pumping up his dubious bona fides as a health care crusader fighting for the sanctity of life.

The governor's commitment to the health of children would carry a lot more resonance if Scott had not been running Columbia/HCA when it was investigated by the feds and later paid a record $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud.

Scott is more than willing to serve as a champion of fetuses. It's only after the child is born that the governor's interest in the quality of the life drops off dramatically. This is the same governor who rejected accepting Medicaid expansion money, which would have provided health care coverage to an estimated 800,000 Floridians, of whom it must be said all were all fetuses at one point.

But Scott, the defender of life, was only getting started in denying health coverage to his constituents. Following this year's legislative session, Scott vetoed $500,000 which would have helped the Northside Mental Health Center develop a residential program; $2 million that would have helped All Children's Hospital conduct (post-fetal) pediatric research; and $250,000 for a Pasco County program to create an elderly nutrition kitchen.

In all, at least $28 million was vetoed by Scott for a wide range of programs to help children and adults with various mental and physical disabilities. Scott also killed $10 million in funding for free clinics across the state and rejected $9.25 million set aside for biomedical research in cancer, genetic and vaccine research.

Because this governor was more interested in scoring cheap political points, he rushed forward in launching a specious investigation against an albeit controversial agency that appears to be legally compliant.