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House Dems: Investigation Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Planned Parenthood Wrongdoing

Emily Crockett

“Despite the incendiary rhetoric, we have looked strictly at the facts," said Reps. Frank Pallone and Diana DeGette, top Democrats on one of the committees investigating Planned Parenthood.

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee said Wednesday that their committee’s investigation has, so far, found no evidence that Planned Parenthood broke any laws on fetal tissue donation.

“Over the last month, we have carefully reviewed the facts at hand and the materials provided to us as a result of the majority’s inquiry,” said Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) in a statement. “Despite the incendiary rhetoric, we have looked strictly at the facts. We are continuing to do our due diligence, but we have found these claims to be unsubstantiated.”

“These claims” refers to allegations by anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, alters abortion procedures to get the tissue, and performs so-called “partial-birth abortions.”

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CMP made these claims in a series of heavily edited, discredited videos that may have been obtained illegally.

On the same day Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Planned Parenthood’s alleged “horrific abortion practices,” Democratic committee staff released a detailed report on what the Energy and Commerce Committee has actually learned from interviews and bipartisan briefings.

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee aren’t pleased with the report’s release. A GOP aide told Rewire that the report was premature, given that the investigation hasn’t been completed.

“Any attempt to declare ‘case closed’ before even basic questions are answered only confirms that Planned Parenthood supporters are terrified,” committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) said in a statement.

Pallone and DeGette’s offices did not respond to requests for comment on why the report was released. Given the timing, the report reads as an evidence-based rebuttal to the House’s hyperbolic committee hearing on the subject.

“To date, the Committee has received no evidence to substantiate the allegations that Planned Parenthood has engaged in the sale of fetal tissue for profit,” the report reads. “Furthermore, the Committee has received no evidence to support the allegations that fetal tissue was procured without consent, that Planned Parenthood physicians altered the timing, method, or procedure of an abortion solely for the purposes of obtaining fetal tissue, or that Planned Parenthood physicians performed intact dilation and evacuation in order to preserve fetal tissue for research.”

The report explains the evidence that the committee has received in the last few months, mostly documents and briefings provided by officials from Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a tissue procurement firm that used to partner with Planned Parenthood.

The report did not cite the CMP videos as evidence because they are “incomplete and deceptively manipulated,” and because an independent investigation found them to have “no evidentiary value.”

Planned Parenthood has two affiliates out of 59 that participate in fetal tissue research, the report says, and only one of them is receiving any reimbursement. Four other affiliates have provided fetal tissue for research in the past five years. The affiliates who were reimbursed received $45-60 per specimen, which the contracts explicitly say are meant to cover “reasonable administrative costs,” a legal practice.

StemExpress CEO Cate Dyer told committee staff that she believes Planned Parenthood is losing money on fetal tissue donation, given how much staff time and clinic space is involved.

Planned Parenthood goes above and beyond what the law requires for fetal tissue research, the report says. Rules about patient consent and not changing abortion procedures only apply to federally funded research, it continues, which hasn’t taken place since 2007. But Planned Parenthood’s guidance tells its affiliates to follow those rules anyway, regardless of whether the research is federally funded.

That means that even if the allegations were true that Planned Parenthood affiliates changed abortion procedures to obtain fetal tissue, it would only violate Planned Parenthood’s own guidance, not any applicable federal law.

The report paraphrases remarks by Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, that explain why her comments about changing a fetus to the “breech presentation” don’t describe a change in method or procedure. Adjustments in surgical technique aren’t the same thing as changing a method or procedure, she said, and the same goes for moving a fetus into the breech position—for a less skilled physician in particular, it’s an adjustment that might be required for patient safety.

The allegations that Planned Parenthood broke the law, DeGette and Pallone said, “appear to be part of a coordinated campaign on the part of the Center for Medical Progress and others, to simply discredit Planned Parenthood and undermine a woman’s legal right to safe reproductive health care.”

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