At the request of Republican senators, the inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a review of how federal officials oversee fetal tissue research — a subject in the spotlight since the release of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who initiated the request, said Tuesday that the audit would cover all fetal tissue research supported by HHS grants and would examine how the agency enforced compliance with relevant federal laws.
The request was made in a letter signed by 35 GOP senators in October, about three months after the first of a series of undercover videos was released by anti-abortion activists. The activists contend that portions of the videos show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law.
Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing, saying a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursement for the costs of providing tissue donated by some of its abortion clients. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.
Since the videos' release, Republicans in Congress have launched several investigations of Planned Parenthood, including one by a House select committee that is expected to extend through the coming year.
"I am encouraged to see the Inspector General take action to investigate Planned Parenthood's unconscionable practices," Paul said in a statement Tuesday. "Planned Parenthood selling body parts of the unborn demonstrates that the organization deserves not one penny more of our taxpayer dollars, and I am confident this investigation will give further proof of that."
Planned Parenthood welcomed news of the HHS review, noting that back in July — after the first videos were released — it had asked the National Institutes of Health to create an expert panel to review the regulation and oversight of fetal tissue research. It said the last time there was such a review was in 1988.
"We applaud the HHS for this timely review of practices around fetal tissue donation," said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president. "This work is often critical to lifesaving medical research, and has helped with important breakthroughs, such as the polio vaccine and research into a cure for Alzheimer's disease."
Laguens added that no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood has been found in eight state investigations conducted since release of the videos.
The HHS inspector general, Daniel Levinson, said in a letter to Paul that his office would provide periodic updates on the progress of the new review, but he did not specify how long it would take.