By Sarah Ferris - 07/15/15 09:08 PM EDT
Congressional Democrats are coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood as Republicans launch investigations into the group’s use of fetal tissue from abortions.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday dismissed a secretly recorded viral video that shows a Planned Parenthood executive detailing how the livers, lungs and hearts of fetuses are preserved during abortions for medical research.
“They’ve been attacking Planned Parenthood for years,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), another prominent abortion rights supporter. “They’ve been calling for investigations for years.”
Still, the footage, which was recorded by anti-abortion advocates posing as fetal tissue buyers from a research company, is putting Democrats in an uncomfortable spot.
While Democrats have for years defended Planned Parenthood against GOP attacks, the graphic discussion about “fetal parts” in the video has energized conservative groups that say the reality of abortion is deliberately obscured by the media.
The remarks from Planned Parenthood’s chief medical director surfaced Tuesday in a nearly nine-minute video that was created by a new group, the Center for Medical Progress.
Planned Parenthood, which receives federal funding that cannot be used for abortions, has acknowledged that the video does feature its top medical officer but says the footage is heavily edited and “grossly mischaracterizes” the organization’s practice of donating fetal tissue to research.
At least one anti-abortion Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), said he supports the GOP for its planned investigations. Lipinski denounced the video in a press conference with several House Republicans on Wednesday and said he believes more of his colleagues in the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus will follow.
“I’m hopeful that some of the pro-choice Democrats also come out in support of the investigation to find out what’s going on at these clinics,” he told The Hill. “I think everyone should be concerned about it, no matter what your position is on abortion.”
Some Democrats, like Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), the co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, have been cautious in their response to the video.
In a statement to The Hill, she expressed support for Planned Parenthood, though it fell far short of a sweeping defense.
“Planned Parenthood has spoken clearly on the specific circumstances surrounding this video, and I will let their experts explain for themselves. Circumstances of this video aside, people need to understand the important research that specific tissue types contribute to,” she wrote in a statement.
The video, which is nearing 1.5 million views online, reverberated across Capitol Hill and the campaign trail on Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after it surfaced, lawmakers in the House had opened a pair of congressional investigations. Dozens of Republicans, including Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Ohio), have condemned the claims in the video as “inhumane” and “grotesque.”
GOP presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzFour states sue to stop internet transition House approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (Ky.), are also raising the issue’s national profile.
The remarks by Planned Parenthood’s medical director in the video are shockingly candid.
While sipping wine in a Los Angeles restaurant, she describes “crushing” the fetus in a way that preserves its organs for researchers. She also describes the growing demand for liver, lungs and “intact” hearts.
Democrats have said there’s no evidence that the group is violating federal laws from her remarks, though none of them told The Hill they had seen the video.
“Planned Parenthood is actually allowed, is my understanding, for scientific research, to use fetal tissue, and that is not illegal,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus who said she had spoken to Planned Parenthood leadership.
When asked about Republicans’ planned investigations into Planned Parenthood, Schakowsky said she wanted an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress, which she called “a phony company.”
The issue of abortion has already caused trouble for members of Congress in both parties this year, from a bipartisan Senate bill to fight human trafficking to a House bill banning late-term abortions that drew objections over its language on rape.
Earlier this week, House leaders pulled a bipartisan bill from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) that would have created a commemorative coin to help raise money for breast cancer research because some of that funding would have gone to Planned Parenthood.
The bill was ultimately passed Wednesday with broad support from both parties. But Maloney hinted that the delay was, in part, because of the Planned Parenthood video.
Asked if she thought the outrage over the video fueled sudden opposition to her bill, Maloney responded, “Yes.
“It is an unusual coincidence, shall we say.”
Cristina Marcos contributed.