Republicans are determined to push on with their investigation of Planned Parenthood, even after a Texas grand jury cleared the organization of wrongdoing on Monday and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who targeted the family planning provider in a series of undercover videos.
One of the videos, taped at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston and purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff members discussing the sale of fetal tissue for medical research, inspired Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, to ask Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to initiate a criminal investigation of the organization in August.
Planned Parenthood has maintained that it was not selling fetal tissue, which would have been illegal, and commissioned a study that demonstrated the videos were manipulated. The organization sued the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group behind the videos, earlier this month.
The grand jury’s decision hasn’t affected Republicans' plans to continue investigating Planned Parenthood, however. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is chairing a select investigative committee that purports to be investigating “big abortion providers" -- but for all intents and purposes is only scrutinizing Planned Parenthood -- said in a statement Tuesday that “the mission of our investigation has not changed.”
“We will continue to gather information and get the facts about medical practices of abortion service providers and the business practices of the procurement organizations who sell baby body parts,” Blackburn said. “These are issues of importance to the American people. We will study the laws on the books and follow the facts to defend life."
Blackburn's committee was created even as other Republicans, like Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), said they didn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing on the provider’s part. Multiple state investigations have come to similar conclusions.
Planned Parenthood says that its Texas health centers do not donate tissue for medical research, and haven’t done so since they partnered with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 2010 to study the causes of miscarriages.
Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s executive vice president, suggested on a call with reporters Tuesday that the videos “served as a cover” for anti-abortion politicians to push their ideological position forward.
“It’s become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud,” she said. “You would hope that other people who now have very clear evidence in this impartial and thorough grand jury proceeding would reconsider some of these attacks.”
Many abortion opponents in Congress cited the Center for Medical Progress' undercover footage to justify their votes to cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for Medicaid and Title X services for low-income patients and to pass new abortion bans. They were largely silent after Monday's grand jury decision, and did not respond to The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.
But the lawmakers who did respond echoed indicted Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden’s argument that the the tactics he used to tape the videos -- like assuming fake identities and creating a fake tissue procurement company -- are "the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades.”
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), for instance, said he was “disappointed and shocked” by the grand jury’s decision, and added that Daleiden employed “a common tactic used to uncover criminal activity.”
“It’s deeply offensive and ridiculous that those who illegally sell aborted human body parts get a pass -- while these two pro-life defenders are indicted for using aliases to expose Planned Parenthood’s unlawful and disgusting practices of selling baby body parts,” Babin said in a statement. “This decision begs the question: how else could they get the truth?”
Anti-abortion groups have now taken the stance that the criminal investigation -- which was initiated by a Republican lieutenant governor and led by an anti-abortion Republican district attorney -- was biased because a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office sits on the board of Planned Parenthood’s Texas affiliate.
“It is unacceptable that the office did not recuse itself to eliminate any and all questions of potential bias,” Lila Rose, the founder of anti-abortion group Live Action, said in a statement. “A special prosecutor should be appointed now to review this entire investigation."
But Josh Schaffer, an attorney for Planned Parenthood in Texas, said on the Tuesday press call that the district attorney’s office had “created a firewall” to make sure that the prosecutor affiliated with Planned Parenthood was in no way involved with the investigation.