Republicans double down on Planned Parenthood probe

Republicans double down on Planned Parenthood probe
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House Republicans are pressing ahead with their probe into Planned Parenthood, despite the group’s decision to abandon the most controversial aspect of its fetal tissue program.

Planned Parenthood on Tuesday said it would no longer accept compensation for procuring tissue for medical research, bending to the pressure of anti-abortion activists who for months accused the group of profiting from the practice.

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Top Republicans, including outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio), are dismissing the move as a public relations gambit.

“While Planned Parenthood and other organizations may try to publicly distance themselves from the gruesome industry of selling of fetal baby parts, today’s announcement does not change the facts of the investigation,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The Speaker’s remarks were echoed by Republican anti-abortion leaders such as Reps. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in This week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown House votes next week on abortion bill MORE and Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackWomack wins initial support to become Budget chairman House Foreign Affairs chairman to retire This week: Clock ticks toward shutdown deadline MORE of Tennessee and the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, Utah Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight slams TSA after report says officials 'interfered' in disciplinary case Gowdy steps down from Ethics Committee, citing 'challenging workload' Criminal referrals by members of Congress raise procedural questions MORE.

Chaffetz, who is running to replace Boehner as Speaker, hailed Planned Parenthood’s move as a “good, tangible result” of the GOP’s investigations, which he said were far from over.

Planned Parenthood officials said they aren’t expecting the policy change to silence its critics — only to force them to change the conversation, Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in an interview Tuesday.

“I do hope that they will change their ways, but I’m not hopeful,” Laguens said. “They are being held hostage by the far right, anti-abortion extremist element that runs the Republican Party process. I don’t see that they have a way out of it.”

Laguens reiterated Planned Parenthood’s position that there was no wrongdoing in the undercover videos released by anti-abortion activists. 

“I do believe this will further reveal to the American people, which is who we care about, that there was never any ‘there’ there, and that this is an anti-abortion witch hunt,” she said.

Planned Parenthood has been a target of congressional investigations since July, when anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress released the first of 10 undercover videos that quickly went viral. In several of the videos, Planned Parenthood officials appear to be discussing the price of fetal parts to be used for medical research, though the group has not faced any criminal charges.

Planned Parenthood has already been the subject of four hearings — including one in which the group’s president, Cecile Richards, testified for five hours — and turned over more than 20,000 pages of documents.

House Republicans, led by Boehner, have pledged to deepen their investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices with a special 13-member panel with its own staff and budget, though the process has been temporarily held up by the GOP leadership scramble.

Planned Parenthood’s new policy, which Richards revealed in a letter to the National Institutes of Health, marks the first time that the group has publicly changed its practices as a result of The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos.

Still, the group denied that its policy change is a victory for the anti-abortion movement.

“We’re not caving,” Laguens insisted. “So many people said, ‘I don’t know why you continue to do this, you guys could just walk away from this,’ but this is, in fact, Planned Parenthood standing strong and saying, ‘We are going to continue to do this work.’”

David Daleiden, who has led the campaign against Planned Parenthood, was quick to claim victory. In a statement Tuesday, he blasted the group’s policy change as a “PR stunt” that amounted to an “admission of guilt.”

“If the money Planned Parenthood has been receiving for baby body parts were truly legitimate ‘reimbursement,’ why cancel it?” Daleiden wrote, declining a request to be interviewed. “This proves what CMP has been saying
all along—Planned Parenthood incurs no actual costs, and the payments for harvested fetal parts have always been an extra profit margin.”

The announcement came less than a week after the House voted along party lines to create a special investigative panel into Planned Parenthood and the same day of the first Democratic presidential debate, though Laguens said the timing had “nothing to do” with either.

“We felt that everyone in our federation was united and we were ready and able to make this policy change, and so we wanted to communicate it immediately,” Laguens said. She added that the policy change, which involved medical experts, had been in the works for several weeks.

“If it could get rid of the distraction and the smokescreen that is being used, and focus the conversation on what’s the real agenda on these people, it was really not that hard of a decision,” she continued.

Under federal law, abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood are allowed to accept “reasonable” reimbursement costs for facilitating the donation of fetal tissue to medical researchers.

Before Tuesday’s policy change, only one Planned Parenthood affiliate accepted compensation for fetal tissue procurement. That affiliate accepted “modest reimbursement” of $45 to $60 per tissue specimen, according to an August letter from the group’s president to congressional leaders.

Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program has shrunk dramatically in the several months since it was first targeted by an anti-abortion campaign.

In July, six Planned Parenthood clinics allowed women to donate aborted fetus tissue for medical research. Now, just two of them do.