Congressional panel urges defunding of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood should no longer receive federal funds, a special congressional panel has recommended following a nearly 15-month investigation.

The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives issued its final report Jan. 3 into the practices of abortion providers and others involved in the fetal tissue procurement business. The report not only called for congressional action to protect unborn children and their mothers, but it also recommended restrictions on government grants to abortion providers and on research using fetal tissue.

Congress established the panel, which operated under the umbrella of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, in October 2015 after undercover videos allegedly provided evidence Planned Parenthood was trading in body parts from aborted babies. The secretly recorded videos appeared to show various executives of the country's No. 1 abortion provider discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the lethal procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.

Southern Baptist and other pro-life advocates commended the report. 

"What the investigative panel discovered is what many of us already knew existed—a predatory industry that exploits women and families,” said Steven Harris, director of advocacy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  

“The case studies conducted by the panel reveal years of negligence, cut corners and noncompliance, and my hope is that the swiftest of action be taken regarding the recommendations, and that the abortion industry might at long last be held accountable," Harris told Baptist Press in written comments.

Steven Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said of the panel's findings on Planned Parenthood, "Congress should end taxpayer subsidies of an abortion business that has enjoyed nearly a billion dollars in profits over the last decade while taking more than $4 billion from American taxpayers. It's time to end this immoral partnership that has been forced upon the American people."

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements in its latest financial year, 2014-15. Planned Parenthood's affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent reporting year for which statistics are available.

Planned Parenthood's receipt of federal funds has long produced opposition from Republicans and support from Democrats. Last January, President Barack Obama vetoed legislation that would have eliminated about 90 percent of federal money for PPFA during the year. In mid-December, the Obama administration issued a final rule that effectively blocks states from prohibiting federal family planning funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to work to defund PPFA.

In its report, the panel asserted there was evidence some tissue-procurement companies illegally profited from the trade in body parts from aborted babies. One of the procurement firms, StemExpress, increased its revenue from about $156,000 in 2010 to $4.5 million in 2014 in its role as a middleman between abortion clinics and researchers, according to the report.

Planned Parenthood denied it made a profit but refused to provide accounting documents to demonstrate its claim, the panel reported.

The report said, "[T]he relationships that have formed between tissue procurement companies, abortion clinics, and universities are fraught with questionable practices, including the possible use of illegal, late-term abortion practices to procure fetal tissues and organs, violations of federal laws and regulations on patient consent, and systematic violations of patients' HIPAA rights," which protect the confidentiality of health-care information.

The panel listed in the report 15 referrals it made for possible criminal or regulatory violations. In some cases, the referrals were for potential violations of federal or state laws by Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics. The referrals also included possible illegal profiting from the sale of baby body parts by StemExpress and other tissue-procurement companies.

Among the recommendations in its final report, the panel called for:

 Congress to eliminate grants for Planned Parenthood and certify that such federal funds go to comprehensive health-care providers that do not perform abortions;

• Congress to ban federal funding of research using tissue from aborted babies while instituting a program to support procurement of ethically acquired fetal tissue for research;

 Congress to approve legislation—known as the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act—to safeguard unborn children after 20 weeks gestation;

 The Department of Justice to increase its commitment to the prosecution of those who profit from the sale of fetal tissue;

 The Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidelines for emergency care by abortion providers to children born alive during the lethal procedures.

The panel's deep division throughout its work was obvious once again when the final report was issued. The eight Republicans on the panel praised the report in a release. The six Democratic members—who had lambasted even the panel's existence—had issued a minority report Dec. 5 chastising the GOP-controlled investigation and opposing the effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

The panel's chairman—Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.—said in a Jan. 4 news release she hopes its work "will result in some necessary changes within both the abortion and fetal tissue-procurement industries. Our hope is that these changes will both protect women and their unborn children, as well as the integrity of scientific research."

Another member of the panel—Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.—said its investigation "has laid bare the grisly reality of an abortion industry that is driven by profit, unconcerned by matters of basic ethics and, too often, noncompliant with the few laws we have to protect the safety of women and their unborn children."

The panel's lead Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, blasted the report, calling it "illegitimate."

"Republicans refused to give Democratic members the opportunity to review the report, failed to hold the required public meeting, and ignored the requirement that the full panel vote on its release," Schakowsky said in written comments Jan. 3.

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) produced the undercover recordings involving Planned Parenthood that prompted establishment of the select panel and also released videos regarding StemExpress. Among the videos was one of a former StemExpress employee allegedly discussing her experience procuring baby organs at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The full report is available here.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.

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