WASHINGTON – Two Republican lawmakers have asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to report on the extent to which municipal bonds have been used to finance abortion facilities over the last 20 years and the federal tax liability involved.

Sen. James Langford, R-Okla., and Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., requested the report in a one-page letter sent to Comptroller Gene L. Dodaro, who heads the GAO, on Jan. 18.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., answers questions from reporters at the U.S. Capitol
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. Bloomberg News

The report is expected to be used in connection with a bill (H.R. 4131) the two lawmakers introduced in late October that would ban the use of tax-exempt bonds for ”facilities owned by abortion providers.” Hospitals would be exempted by the bill.

“State and municipal bonds are meant to finance schools, bridges, roads and other necessary infrastructure,” the two
Republicans told the Comptroller in their letter. “Some cities and states offered these tax-exempt bonds to abortion providers in order to build abortion clinics or related facilities. Every time on one of these tax-exempt bonds is issued, there is a federal tax liability which is not paid.”

Asked about the report and bill, Chuck Samuels, a member of Mintz Levin and counsel to the National Association of Health & Higher Education Facilities Authorities, said, “We certainly understand this is an issue of great sensitivity, emotion and where there are strong feelings.”

“Our approach to the question of what facilities qualify as tax exempt bonds is that Congress separately determines what are tax exempt functions and institutions, such as charitable health care, and that is the appropriate basis for tax-exempt bond eligibility,” he said. “We do not support rifle shots and carve outs within the tax exempt bond provisions.”

The letter to GAO, in addition to asking for the amount of bonds used for abortion facilities, also requests that GAO report: which states have issued municipal bonds for abortion facilities; the total federal tax liability involved in the issuance of these bonds; and the impact of the bond on each abortion provider.

“This study will provide necessary transparency to allow Congress to exercise appropriate oversight of the use of state and municipal bonds,” the letter said.

The lawmakers cited several examples of municipal bond issues sold for abortion clinics or related facilities. All of them involved bonds issued for Planned Parenthood.

One was an almost $8 million variable rate demand revenue bond issue sold in 2007 by Sarasota County, Fla. The lawmakers said the bonds were used to finance the construction of the Planned Parenthood Sarasota Health Center, a 22,795 square foot clinic offering abortion services and the “morning after pill.”

The official statement for the bond issue said the bond proceeds were to be loaned to Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Inc. to design, construct, furnish and equip a medical education and administrative office building. It said that about 1,000 square feet of the total space would be leased for retail occupancy.

Another example cited was a $15 million bond issue, which the lawmakers said was sold in 2012 by the New York Industrial Development Agency to finance the renovation of Planned Parenthood’s national headquarters. The lawmakers said that in 2015, Planned Parenthood of America sold the facility.

However, according to information on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA system, the bonds were sold in 2002 and were to mature in 2018. No official statement was available for the bonds.

An advanced search for Planned Parenthood on EMMA shows only six bond issues sold between 1999 and 2007 totaling almost $41 million.

Planned Parenthood could not be reached for comment. But in its 2016-1017 annual report, the group, which turned 100 last year, said only 3% of the services it provides are related to abortions. The majority of its services are for the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (47%), contraception (28%) other women’s health services (14%), cancer screenings and prevention (7%) and other services.

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