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Congress could hear from Planned Parenthood on eve of shutdown deadline

Antiabortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 28 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

Congress could finally hear directly from Planned Parenthood's leader next week after months of controversy — on the day before it confronts a potential government shutdown spurred by conservatives demanding an end to the group's federal funding.

The timing of the possible Sept. 29 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has Democrats crying foul, accusing Republicans in a Monday letter of "using this issue to force a government shutdown unless [House Speaker John A. Boehner] bows to their demands."

"[W]e do not believe our Committee should be dragged into an internal Republican political battle that has been churning for years," wrote the Democratic members of the panel, led by ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.).

The committee's Republican majority has not yet publicly announced a hearing. The Democrats disclosed in Monday's letter that they have been informed there will be a Sept. 29 hearing and that Planned Parenthood representatives will be invited. A spokeswoman for committee Republicans did not respond to a request for confirmation or comment.

Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the group's president, Cecile Richards, "expects to be invited" to a Sept. 29 hearing and, if invited, would accept the invitation.

Should the hearing proceed, Democrats are demanding that antiabortion activist David Daleiden testify alongside Planned Parenthood representatives. "We believe it is fundamentally unfair to hold a public hearing to essentially indict Planned Parenthood in the court of public opinion without hearing directly from their accuser," they write.

It was Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress that produced and published the series of undercover videos that prompted the recent controversy. They depict Planned Parenthood officials discussing procuring tissue from aborted fetuses with Daleiden, who posed as a biotechnology entrepreneur, and associates.

Activists and conservative lawmakers say the videos indicate that Planned Parenthood broke federal laws pertaining to fetal tissue sales and late-term abortions. Planned Parenthood says it has followed the law, that Daleiden's videos have been unfairly edited to place its practices in a false light, and that it was Daleiden, in fact, who broke the law in the course of producing the videos.

"We have been fully transparent and cooperative with all four congressional committees that have launched investigations based on false and discredited claims," Ferrero said in an e-mailed statement. "We look forward to sharing the facts with this committee, which include that fetal tissue donation for medical research is an important but tiny part of Planned Parenthood's work in just two states, that we've had guidance in place for more than a decade in this area that goes well beyond the legal requirements, and that even doctored and discredited videos show no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood."

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee includes numerous members of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line conservative group that is pushing to strip Planned Parenthood of the federal health-care funding it receives through Medicaid and the Title X family planning grant program. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, chairs the subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules, while Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has called for Boehner's ouster and suggested that Planned Parenthood funding could spark his removal, chairs another Oversight subcommittee.