By Sarah Ferris - 09/13/15 08:00 AM EDT
Congressional Republicans say they are determined to shut Planned Parenthood down, regardless of whether it broke any laws.
In more than two months of investigations, members have yet to turn up evidence that Planned Parenthood acted illegally, the same conclusion reached by a half-dozen state investigations. The Department of Justice has so far declined to launch a formal probe.
“I don’t know whether we’re ever going to be able to answer that question, whether it was illegal for them to do what they were doing,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) said during the House’s first hearing on the topic Wednesday. "I don’t know if it was illegal … but it was immoral, what was seen on that video."
Republicans have long been fierce critics of Planned Parenthood, which is the nation’s largest provider of abortion services. Under the law, the organization is banned from using federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity.
Stirred by outrage over secretly recorded videos at Planned Parenthood, Republicans opposed to abortion rights say it’s time to end federal funding for the group once and for all.
“The issue is not whether there’s been a crime committed or not,” Rep. Ted PoeTed PoeIRS head vows to finish term despite impeachment push Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers House simmers with criticism for Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Texas.) told the same group at the hearing. “This issue is whether or not taxpayers should fund Planned Parenthood. That’s the issue before this committee.”
Three House committees and six states have investigated Planned Parenthood since it was first targeted by the undercover videos in July. The Energy and Commerce Committee has interviewed two Planned Parenthood officials as well as officials from three tissue procurement companies that have partnered with the organization: Stem Express, Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc. and Novogenix Laboratories.
The anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress has released more than an hour of footage that raises questions about how Planned Parenthood obtains fetal tissue from abortions to be donated to medical research, and whether it is receiving illegal compensation.
GOP lawmakers have said the videos specifically indicate the potential violation of three laws: profiting from tissue donations, altering the procedure of an abortion and donating fetal tissue without consent.
While the videos targeting Planned Parenthood have dealt a blow to its reputation, some GOP lawmakers agree they don’t provide contain hard evidence of illegality.
“There’s a thinking they’ve actually broken the law and if that is the case, we need to investigate that and bring that to light, and they should be punished for that,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said in an interview this week.
In the hearing on Wednesday, the undercover videos were not directly addressed and Planned Parenthood itself was not invited to testify.
Instead, the panel heard from two women who had survived abortions at birth, both giving graphic descriptions about the procedure. Republicans also sparred with the lone witness supporting abortion rights over partial birth abortions, the point of viability for a fetus and the legal definition of infanticide.
One Democrat, Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), forced a top Republican to acknowledge that no one on the committee had seen the unedited undercover footage. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly said that the footage was doctored to falsely accuse the group of wrongdoing
In a 10-minute spat with abortion rights opponent Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksDems: House GOP just like Trump Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law House GOP reignites push for budget plan MORE (R-Ariz.), Cicilline demanded to know whether Republicans on the committee had copies of “the full unedited videos that are at issue in this hearing.”
“The answer is no that we are not,” Franks said, pausing. “But I should suggest to you that we are in possession of enough of it to indicate that living, human, viable babies are being murdered at Planned Parenthood.”
The hearing took place one day after the Democratic staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee declared that they had uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing in their own investigation into Planned Parenthood.
In the 20-page report, the committee said it had reviewed briefings, documents, and written responses about the organization’s use of fetal tissue donations.
“Despite the incendiary rhetoric, we have looked strictly at the facts. We are continuing to do our due diligence, but we have found these claims to be unsubstantiated,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a statement announcing the report.
The Energy and Commerce Committee will hold its own hearing next Thursday, where the committee will consider legislation to strengthen legislation “protecting infants,” but not directly related to fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has not been formally invited, a spokeswoman said Friday.
House GOP leaders also announced Friday that they will hold votes on two bills that do not directly address fetal tissue donation.
One would block funding for Planned Parenthood, while the other would strengthen existing legislation to protect babies who are born alive during abortions.
“These two critical bills will ensure that we get all the facts and protect those who cannot protect themselves," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the floor announcing the votes Friday.