Congress starts Planned Parenthood hearings, accusations fly

Author: the associated press
Published: Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Opening long-awaited congressional hearings, the House Judiciary Committee chairman said Wednesday its Planned Parenthood investigation is aimed at protecting taxpayers against financing the kind of “horrors” suggested by secretly recorded videos of group officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

The recordings, made by anti-abortion activists posing as representatives of a company interested in buying fetal tissue, show Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing how they sometimes obtain tissue from aborted fetuses for medical researchers.

With accusations and emotions running high, the committee’s top Democrat said the videos were deceptively edited, but offer no evidence of wrongdoing.

“The real purpose of the videos is to undermine one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality health care for women,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.

Republicans are eager to use questions about fetal tissue research to personalize the broader political dispute over abortion, a contentious social issue that could be a factor during the 2016 presidential and congressional campaigns.

The hearing came nearly two months after the Center for Medical Progress began releasing videos that have enraged conservatives, GOP lawmakers and Republican presidential candidates.

Representatives from Planned Parenthood and the center were not scheduled to appear.

Many have accused Planned Parenthood of violating laws that bar for-profit sales of fetal tissue; four congressional committees have begun investigating the organization.

Democrats contend the investigations are one-sided and only the latest GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood and abortion.

But the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, said the hearings were appropriate and noted that Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the videos “disturbing.”

Goodlatte, R-Va., said Planned Parenthood “is granted huge amounts of federal funds” and Congress must “do what we can to ensure federal taxpayers are not contributing to the sorts of horrors reflected in the undercover videos.”

Planned Parenthood provides contraception, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions in clinics across the country. It receives more than $500 million each year from federal and state governments, more than one-third of its overall $1.3 billion annual budget.

A prominent abortion foe tried to make the case his testimony that Planned Parenthood was breaking laws. An abortion rights supporter said there was no such proof.

The videos show that Planned Parenthood “violates various federal laws,” said James Bopp Jr., general counsel for National Right to Life. Only banning research using fetal tissue from abortions or abortion itself “will prevent the inevitable abuse,” he said.

Yet to Priscilla Smith, who directs Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, “there is simply no evidence in these misleadingly edited videos of a violation” of statutes, according to her written remarks.

Also set to testify were two women who say they survived failed abortions as newborns.

There is some sentiment among Republicans to end federal payments to Planned Parenthood as the price for approving spending bills keeping government agencies open past Oct. 1.

Top Republicans want to avoid a standoff that precipitates a federal shutdown, which voters might blame on the GOP. Party leaders hope votes over Planned Parenthood can be isolated to separate bills not tied to financing the government.

Before the hearing, Planned Parenthood distributed a report saying that nine other times since 2000, it has been targeted in a “fanatical crusade” by anti-abortion extremists who have released recordings after trying to entrap the organization into wrongful behavior, only to see the allegations discredited.

One of the recent videos, Dr. Mary Gatter, a regional Planned Parenthood medical director in California, is talking with abortion opponents who posed as private tissue buyers. “In negotiations, the person who throws out the figure first is at a loss, right?” Gatter says.

Smith said such conversations were actually unsuccessful attempts by the Center for Medical Progress to “entrap” Planned Parenthood officials into illegally selling tissue for profit.

Bopp urged lawmakers to investigate whether Planned Parenthood was violating the federal ban against a procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. He also cited other comments that he says show that the group changes abortion procedures to increase their chances of recovering intact tissue.

That is prohibited by federal law when tissue is being obtained for federally financed research on transplantation. The National Institutes of Health says it has not financed a trial on such research for almost a decade, and Planned Parenthood has said it doesn’t alter abortion procedures.

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