Republicans are preparing for a battle this month over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, with some more-conservative members calling for the fight to go all the way to a government shutdown if need be.
But first: committee hearings.
Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold the first of what is expected to be several hearings on the release of a series of videos allegedly depicting Planned Parenthood engaged in the sale of fetal tissue, which is illegal.
Planned Parenthood says it only charges the overhead costs of donating fetal tissue to medical research.
The Judiciary Committee’s investigation so far has concentrated on answering “whether the federal law that prohibits partial-birth abortions and the killing of infants born alive were violated, the history of enforcement of those laws, and the sufficiency of those laws,” according to a release put out by the committee. Several other House committees have launched their own investigations of Planned Parenthood.
The hearing will address what laws are in place, whether those laws prevent Planned Parenthood from taking the same actions in the future, and what Congress can do to ensure that abortions will not be performed as a “as a means to gain fetal tissue for research,” a GOP Judiciary spokesperson said.
“This is simply just setting the stage on the issues that are at hand. We don’t want to go on the attack,” the spokesperson said. “It’s not one of those … congressional hearings where there’s a 'gotcha' moment.”
Neither Planned Parenthood nor the group responsible for the videos—the Center for Medical Progress—were invited to Wednesday’s hearing, according to the spokesperson. The witness list does promise an emotional appeal by the antiabortion side: Two of the four witnesses are “abortion survivors.” The other two are experts, one antiabortion and one pro-abortion rights.
The Judiciary spokesperson said the timing of the hearing was unrelated to this month's spending bill fight.
“There’s really no kind of nexus between our hearing and the spending bill,” he said. “Congress has been out all of August and this investigation has been going on for two months.”
Democrats are also going on the offensive, claiming that the Center for Medical Progress also violated the law and edited the videos to be misleading.
Reps. John Conyers and Elijah Cummings, the ranking members of the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively, wrote a letter to their committee chairmen asking them to suspend the “one-sided” investigations or to also investigate the Center for Medical Progress.
“As the Ranking Members of two House Committees that have launched congressional investigations against Planned Parenthood, we are writing to request that you suspend these investigations, which are based on the potentially illegal actions of a radical anti-abortion group that has admitted to falsifying documents, lying to their own contributors, and deceptively editing secretly-recorded videos in a three-year crusade against Planned Parenthood,” Conyers and Cummings wrote.
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Caitlin Owens is a health care reporter at National Journal. Her work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.