Congress will make its first public examination of Planned Parenthood next week, a day after lawmakers return from their long summer recess, following the release of a series of undercover videos airing frank conversations about the group's fetal tissue practices.
The Sept. 9 hearing scheduled Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee will be the first in a series titled "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider" -- making clear that the women's health care provider can expect withering attention from the committee's Republican majority.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) issued a joint statement saying that "Planned Parenthood and its executives must answer for the alleged atrocities brought to light" in the undercover videos.
"For the past two months, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the alleged acts of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, and now the American people will have a chance to understand just how horrific these practices are to the unborn," the statement said.
The committee did not release a witness list, though Goodlatte and Franks said they intend to "question a panel of experts on this issue in order to ascertain how Planned Parenthood may have violated federal laws in the course of its alleged practices, and the atrocities associated with altering abortions in order to obtain the body parts of fetuses."
Planned Parenthood, whose executives have previously said they intend to cooperate with the congressional investigations, said Wednesday it had not been apprised of the hearing.
"We have not been told what the focus of this hearing is, beyond its provocative title, and we look forward to learning more about it," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, adding that her organization will "continue to be fully transparent and cooperate fully with all of the committees.”
Two other House committees -- Energy and Commerce, and Oversight and Government Reform -- are conducting their own investigations and are also expected to hold hearings this month.
Planned Parenthood in the past week has been seeking to undermine the nine videos that have trickled out since June from the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion activist group. The videos show Planned Parenthood executives speaking frankly about the practice of harvesting fetal tissue and organs for medical research, but the group says the videos -- including the extended footage released by the activists -- had been edited in such a way as to make it unreliable for investigative purposes.
Members of Congress have pushed the Justice Department to investigate the videos to determine whether federal laws banning late-term abortions and the sales of fetal tissue had been broken. And a number of conservative lawmakers have demanded that Congress halt the flow of federal money to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the videos.
Planned Parenthood receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year in reimbursements through Medicaid and in federal family planning grant funds, which are restricted from being used for abortions. But conservatives argue that the federal money indirectly supports an organization whose affiliates perform nearly a third of America's abortions.
Congressional Republican leaders have thus far shied away from pledging to strip Planned Parenthood from the federal budget ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for funding the U.S. government; such a move would be fiercely opposed by Democrats, and could force a politically costly government shutdown. "We just don't have the votes to get the outcome that we'd like," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday,
Reacting to McConnell's statement, Laguens said Tuesday that "the public has no appetite for blocking millions of women and men from seeking basic, reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood health centers."
"From the beginning, this relentless campaign has been about one thing: anti-abortion extremists who will do anything — lie, twist facts, villainize providers, and even reportedly break the law — in their quest to ban abortion and block millions from accessing basic reproductive health care," Laguens said. "But we know that any politician who throws their hat in with these extremists does so at their own risk — it leaves their constituents devastated, turns off voters, and frankly, loses elections."