Republican leaders in Congress and in the 2016 GOP presidential field are calling for an investigation into Planned Parenthood in the aftermath of a video that's been burning up conservative politics.
On Tuesday, the Center for Medical Progress, an antiabortion advocacy group, released a video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood doctor admitting to the sale of fetal tissue and organs, which is a federal crime.
On Wednesday, both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for an investigation into Planned Parenthood.
"I speak for all of my colleagues when I say I was deeply disturbed by reports and video of an organization engaging in such grotesque and inhumane practices," McCarthy said in a statement. "I will be working with House committees to investigate the claims made by the employee. We should all agree that no life is expendable, and our society has no place for such callous indifference to life."
"When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video—we must all act," Boehner said in his statement. "As a start, I have asked our relevant committees to look into this matter. I am also calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."
Early Wednesday afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced it had already gotten the ball rolling on an investigation.
"This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart. The committee will get to the bottom of this appalling situation," said committee leaders in a press release.
The House Judiciary Committee soon followed suit.
Committee members "have been committed to the preservation of human life, including the lives of unborn children," chairman Bob Goodlatte announced in a press release. "We will continue to fight for the rights of the unborn."
In the edited video, two actors posed as employees from a biotech firm interested in obtaining fetal tissue. They spoke with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, over salad and glasses of wine. At one point in the video, one of the actors seems to ask Nucatola about how Planned Parenthood determines the "monetary" value of tissue donations, and the "price range" of such donations.
"You know, I'm—I could throw a number out that's anywhere from $30 to $100 depending on the facility, and what's involved," Nucatola replies.
At first glance, this exchange is shocking: a Planned Parenthood doctor admitting to getting paid in exchange for tissue from aborted fetuses. According to the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, buying and selling "any human organ," including from fetuses, is illegal.
But upon further inspection, the Center for Medical Progress's claims about the video don't hold up. The tape was promoted by Live Action, a group known for going to extreme lengths to get their antiabortion message across. A more complete version of the video shows Nucatola explicitly saying the tissues are not for sale—the prices she refers to correspond to fully legal reimbursements. Per the 1984 law, "reasonable payments" associated with transportation, organ removal, and storage, among other factors, are legal. In a statement, Planned Parenthood's vice president of communications, Eric Ferrero, said his organization helps patients donate tissue "just like every other high-quality health care provider does. "¦ There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.
"In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field," he said.
The fuller context of the taped conversation might not matter to some: not to those in the antiabortion community, for whom the video feeds into notions about Planned Parenthood as a cruel, inhumane organization, and not for Republican politicians, who bank on those voters' support and are eager to find any evidence to defund the organization.
The edited video quickly stoked ire on the Right. On Tuesday, "Planned Parenthood" and the hashtag #PPSellsBabyParts began trending in conservative circles on Twitter. Republican presidential candidates quickly latched onto the video, and some used it as evidence to make the case that Congress should defund Planned Parenthood.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry accused Planned Parenthood of "profiting off the tragedy of destroyed human life." Jeb Bush tweeted that "we must do so much more to foster a culture of life in America." Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Gov. Scott Walker also expressed their outrage. Sen. Ted Cruz called on Congress to "immediately begin an investigation of Planned Parenthood's activities regarding the sale and transfer of aborted body parts." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal directed his state's Department of Health and Hospitals to investigate Planned Parenthood, which doesn't currently offer abortion services at its two clinics in Louisiana.
"I am sickened by the complete disregard for innocent unborn life evident at Planned Parenthood," Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. "I'm proud that one of my first actions in the Senate was voting to defund this organization."
"This latest news is tragic and outrageous," Carly Fiorina said in a Facebook post. "This isn't about 'choice.' It's about profiting on the death of the unborn while telling women it's about empowerment."
Sen. Rand Paul went on a tweetstorm Tuesday night, deriding journalists for not reporting on the video or asking Democratic candidates to answer for their support of Planned Parenthood. Democrats are "the ones with a record of supporting partial-birth abortion by keeping taxpayer dollars flowing to Planned Parenthood," he said.
Both Paul and Dr. Ben Carson created petitions calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Sen. Lindsey Graham hadn't weighed in on the video as of Wednesday afternoon, instead directing his attention toward the Iran deal that was finalized Monday night.
The undercover video taken by the Center for Medical Progress recalls another secretly recorded video aimed at exposing an organization receiving government support: the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. In 2009, James O'Keefe of Project Veritas famously dressed up as a "pimp" and asked an ACORN employee for advice on how to hide his prostitution business and dodge taxes. While the Government Accountability Office found no indication that the group mishandled the federal funds it had received, the organization had already shut down by that point after weathering six months of extremely bad press.
Now, antiabortion activists hope this video will have a similar effect on Planned Parenthood.
This story has been updated with information about the House Judiciary Committee investigation.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated whether or not Scott Walker had issued a statement. He did on Tuesday, and it is now noted in this story.