See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.
Congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood inspired by deceptive videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) officially kicked off on Wednesday, with a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that featured no witnesses from either Planned Parenthood or CMP.
Instead, the committee heard from three long-time anti-choice advocates, including National Right to Life Committee general counsel James Bopp, and one pro-choice law professor, Priscilla Smith, director of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice. Two of the witnesses called themselves “abortion survivors” and said they were born alive during very late abortion procedures, through methods that are no longer common practice.
Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens in a statement decried the nearly four-hour committee hearing as “political theater at its very worst.”
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Several Democrats on the committee agreed with her, complaining that with a hearing title like “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider,” the Republican majority clearly wasn’t interested in an impartial investigation.
“The title alone is enough to call this hearing a farce,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) during the hearing. “It is wrong, and should be beneath this committee, to state its conclusion without a shred of evidence and before we receive even a word of testimony.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) called the hearing “the Benghazi of health-care hearings,” and said that the hearing was “not about the videos” but rather about whether women should have the right to choose.
Republicans on the committee did indeed seem more interested in discussing the morality of abortion, especially later abortion, than the particulars of whether and how Planned Parenthood broke any laws.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) used much of his time during the hearing to promote a 20-week abortion ban bill, which passed the House earlier this year and would directly contradict Roe v. Wade because it bans abortion before a fetus is viable.
Franks called legal abortion after 20 weeks “the worst human rights atrocity in the history of the United States,” and repeated the discredited idea that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks’ gestation.
Many serious fetal anomalies can only be detected after 20 weeks.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) grilled Smith at length over the definition of “infanticide,” and committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) asked her if a dilation and extraction (D and E) abortion is a “humane way to die.” Goodlatte brushed aside Smith’s explanation of the difference between a viable fetus and a non-viable fetus, a distinction that Smith said was “getting confused here in this hearing again and again.”
The speeches, the questions asked of the witnesses, and even the witnesses themselves (namely the two “abortion survivors”) seemed designed to give viewers the false impression that Planned Parenthood regularly delivers viable fetuses alive and kills them for their parts. It’s an impression that the anti-choice front group, CMP, has tried to create in their videos, which allege that Planned Parenthood violates the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 because some of the specimens collected for fetal tissue research may be “intact” fetuses.
There are two problems with these allegations, Smith explained. One is that the quotes from Planned Parenthood employees about “intact” fetuses were spliced together from different conversations, and so their accuracy is impossible to determine. But even if the quotes are accurate, whether a fetus is intact after an abortion doesn’t matter under the law. CMP, it seems, tries to confuse “intact” with “alive.”
It also seemed clear that the committee’s Republicans didn’t want to discuss CMP’s possibly illegal actions.
Bopp of the National Right to Life Committee declined to discuss CMP’s methods or whether their actions were legal. Pressed by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) on whether he was actually advised by people on the committee not to talk about those issues, Bopp replied, “I was advised that that’s not the purpose of the hearing and I shouldn’t comment.”
Franks, who admitted to having seen the videos weeks before they were released, conferred at length with staff sitting next to him before answering questions about whether he saw the full, completely unedited videos or coordinated with CMP.
“The answer is we have not received any additional footage,” Franks said.
Smith explained how the videos—even the supposedly “unedited” ones—have been manipulated and shouldn’t be trusted as evidence.
“There’s simply nothing in the tapes that indicates a violation of the fetal tissue law,” Smith said.
Smith and committee Democrats pointed out that Planned Parenthood has been the target of nine “sting” operations over the past 15 years.
“The people who made these videos are liars in a long line of liars,” Nadler said.
Nadler asked Bopp whether he was familiar with one of those earlier attacks on the women’s health-care organization. When Bopp said he didn’t recall it, Nadler reminded him he was under oath and called him “remarkably ignorant” for someone in his field.
Questions and speeches from Republican committee members often veered into bizarre territory. At one point, Sensenbrenner demanded to know whether Smith would prefer to fund Planned Parenthood instead of “feeding hungry children.”
Smith replied that she thought Planned Parenthood and its services are “equal” to feeding children, “because what Planned Parenthood does is preserve women’s lives that are the mothers of those children.”
“How can they be the mothers of the children when children are aborted through Planned Parenthood?” Sensenbrenner said. Smith pointed out that about 60 percent of women who have abortions already have at least one child.
Smith noted Planned Parenthood’s important role in providing contraception for low-income women.
“The horrible irony here is that defunding Planned Parenthood would increase the number of unintended pregnancies and drastically, I fear, increase the number of abortions that are necessary in this country,” Smith said.