A House committee and at least two states have opened investigations into Planned Parenthood following the release of an undercover video that shows a Planned Parenthood executive graphically discussing the process of aborting a fetus in a way that preserves its organs — and the costs associated with donating those organs to medical researchers.
“This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart,” the Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a statement Wednesday. “The committee will get to the bottom of this appalling situation.”
The congressional investigation was announced as House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called on the Obama administration “to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices.”
“Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child,” Boehner said in a statement. “When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child – and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video – we must all act.”
The video has also prompted the governors of Texas and Louisiana to launch investigations into the organization for any wrongdoing.
The antiabortion group behind the video, Center for Medical Progress, said in a press statement that the newly released footage proves that Planned Parenthood “sells the body parts of aborted fetuses,” an action that is prohibited by federal law, and that its doctors use “partial-birth abortions to supply intact body parts.”
Planned Parenthood has said that the group misrepresented the secretly filmed conversation with Deborah Nucatola, its senior director of medical research.
“The video of a high-level Planned Parenthood executive discussing the details of internal abortion procedures – including harvesting of baby body parts – is unnerving and appalling,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement. “In light of the video, I have directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to conduct an immediate investigation of this alleged practice in addition to a separate investigation ordered by the Texas Office of the Attorney General.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, also announced Wednesday that Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals would investigate Planned Parenthood activities in the state following the video’s release.
Many viewers of the footage were shocked by Nucatola’s casual tone as she discussed the detailed process of aborting a fetus in a way that preserves its organs for donation. Her comments were made in Los Angeles last year over lunch and wine with activists posing as representatives for a biotech firm.
“I’d say a lot of people want liver,” she said in the video, “and for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.”
She continued: “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
Jindal noted that Planned Parenthood “is seeking to open an abortion clinic in New Orleans” and said he has instructed the Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospital to “conduct an immediate investigation into this alleged evil and illegal activity and to not issue any licenses until this investigation is complete.” He also asked for FBI’s assistance in the investigation.
In late June, the state health department cleared the planned New Orleans clinic to apply for a license to perform abortions.
A spokesman for Planned Parenthood’s national organization responded to the video on Tuesday afternoon by acknowledging that some Planned Parenthood affiliates do donate tissues from some aborted fetuses to medical researchers — with the permission of individual women undergoing the procedure — and that they charge money pertaining to the cost of processing those donations.
But spokesman Eric Ferrero said that the costs discussed by Nucatola in the video don’t constitute selling organs for profit, as the video’s producers allege.
“At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health-care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.” Ferrero said. “In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”
Jindal and Abbott are two of several politicians who have said that the footage — the first of several videos the Center for Medical Progress has promised to release in the coming weeks — is at the very least damning enough to warrant investigating further.
In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, a group of anti-abortion House members pledged to use their congressional powers to investigate the undercover video, and several called on law enforcement agencies to investigate possible violations of federal law.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the video could implicate a federal ban on fetal tissue transfers for “valuable consideration,” as well as the ban on partial-birth abortions and the legal protections for infants born alive after an attempted abortion.
Congressional committees would ask questions, said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.), “but it’s also the FBI. It’s DHS. It’s DOJ. We need every agency to investigate this horror.”
“I don’t care how much political weight Planned Parenthood throws around this town, no one is above the law,” said Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who made a veiled reference to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and her recent crackdown on international soccer corruption: “If we’re going to be perp-walking soccer officials, how about let’s bear down on harvesting and trafficking of babies’ body parts.”
The House separately on Wednesday moved to strip breast cancer research funding from a Planned Parenthood ally after anti-abortion advocates objected. Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which gives grants to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, had been in line to receive more than $4 million in proceeds from commemorative coin sales. But a bill with that language was pulled from the House floor Tuesday amid the video uproar, and on Wednesday the Komen funding was redirected to another group, paving way for the bill’s passage on a 421-9 vote.
“These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn’t matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood,” Ferrero said in an emailed Wednesday statement from Planned Parenthood. “Women and families who make the decision to donate fetal tissue for lifesaving scientific research should be honored, not attacked and demeaned.” Ferrero said that those donations are conducted “under the highest ethical and legal standards.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, called on Congress on Tuesday to investigate Planned Parenthood and to “renew efforts to fully defund Planned Parenthood to ensure that its morally bankrupt business receives not one penny of taxpayer money.”
“There is no place for taxpayer funding of organizations that profit from taking away innocent life, much less profiting off the bodies of the lives they have stolen,” Cruz said in a statement.
Other Republican hopefuls for the 2016 nomination also weighed in on the video.
“This is a shocking and horrific reminder that we must do so much more to foster a culture of life in America,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush tweeted.
And former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina wrote on Facebook: “This isn’t about ‘choice.’ It’s about profiting on the death of the unborn while telling women it’s about empowerment.”
[This post has been updated multiple times]