Several Democratic staffers walked out of a screening of the controversial Planned Parenthood videos on Thursday at the Capitol that had been organized by anti-abortion-rights activists.
The standoff between two Democratic staffers and the leader of the Susan B. Anthony List took place during the first congressional screening since the first video was released in July.
One of the staffers, who declined to give her name or office, had demanded to see unedited footage instead of highly contentious clips created by anti-abortion activists — an effort that Planned Parenthood and many Democrats have labeled a smear campaign.
The videos attempt to portray Planned Parenthood as illegally profiting from its fetal tissue donation program.
A total of nine Democratic staffers showed up to the event out of 2,000 that had been invited by Susan B. Anthony List. Ultimately, more press than staffers were in attendance, spurring new criticism from anti-abortion groups that Democrats are ignoring the controversy.
“There are still a lot of people who need to look in the face of this horror and see what’s going on,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. “There are a lot of things we don’t want to see, but we certainly have an obligation in the policy world and as members of Congress and staff, to see what the topic is about.”
Anti-abortion groups have blasted Democrats for refusing to watch the controversial — and at times graphic — videos at a time when four separate committees are investigating the healthcare provider.
A Democratic staffer interrupted Dannenfelser as she introduced the roughly 90 minutes of footage, which have been released over the last two months by The Center for Medical Progress.
In response to the staffer, Dannenfelser said questions would be addressed after the showing, warning that she would have to ask the staffer to leave if there were any more “continual interruptions like you are beginning now.”
“And if the idea is that you prefer for these videos to not be shown so the heart of the matter cannot be discussed in the general dialogue and floors of the House and the Senate, you will really be robbing people the ability to see what’s really happening,” she added.
As Dannenfelser continued, the staffer again asked if the unedited videos would be shown, and then said, “You weren’t answering my question.”
Dannenfelser then told the staffer to “be quiet and watch [and] you will have all of your questions answered. Unless they are debate points that you are trying bring up to prevent us from watching the videos.”
The staffer who asked the questions, along with one other staffer, left the room.
While the footage targeting Planned Parenthood has not shown any apparent illegal behavior, the tone and statements of several of the group’s leaders has caused a backlash nationwide.
Four House committees have since launched investigations, including the House Judiciary Committee, which will begin its parade of hearings into Planned Parenthood next Wednesday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee are also investigating the group, which maintains that it has not broken any laws.
Conservatives in both chambers have backed efforts to defund the organization. The Senate attempted to defund the group before leaving for recess in August, but the resolution failed 53-46 in a procedural vote.
During the screening of the videos for the remaining staffers, members of Planned Parenthood stood outside the room in protest and refused to talk on record with the media.
None of the other staffers that attended the screening wanted to speak on record about the event or the videos.