The searing political conflict over abortion flared anew Wednesday as congressional Republicans said they will investigate whether Planned Parenthood is selling organs from aborted fetuses. House Speaker John Boehner called for committees to probe the question and said President Barack Obama should condemn and stop the practice.
The GOP offensive on the issue came a day after an anti-abortion group circulated a video it made secretly showing a Planned Parenthood official discussing the disposal of body parts from aborted fetuses.
"When an organization monetizes an unborn child — and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video — we must all act," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a brief written statement. He said Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell should "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."
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Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other reproductive health services, says it legally helps women who want to make not-for-profit donations of their fetus' organs for scientific research. It says it makes no money by donating the organs to science, and says the video was heavily edited.
"These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn't matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood," Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said Wednesday. He said women donating fetal tissue for research "should be honored, not attacked and demeaned."
Minutes after Boehner released his statement, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would investigate the issue.
"This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart. The committee will get to the bottom of this appalling situation," said the panel, which is headed by Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Commercial sale of human fetal tissue is illegal under federal law. Non-commercial tissue donation is allowed if the woman undergoing an abortion gives her consent.
Ferrero said Planned Parenthood guidelines for such procedures are carried out "just like other high-quality health care providers — with full, appropriate consent from patients, under the highest ethical and legal standards, and with no financial benefit for the patient or Planned Parenthood."
On Tuesday, the video's release was a factor as GOP leaders postponed a House vote on a bill creating a commemorative coin aimed at raising money for breast cancer research. Conservative lawmakers were angered because one of the groups that would have received the research money is the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. It has affiliates that finance breast cancer services at some local Planned Parenthood clinics.
The House voted unanimously Wednesday to drop the Komen group from the bill, meaning it would receive no research funds. Final passage of the legislation was expected later in the day.
The video, made covertly last year, was produced by the Irvine, California-based Center for Medical Progress, which released it in collaboration with several national anti-abortion organizations.
It shows a lunchtime conversation between Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, and anti-abortion activists posing as potential buyers for a human biologics company.
Nucatola is heard in the video referring to fetal hearts, lungs and livers and to efforts to retrieve these organs intact rather than crush them during an abortion procedure. She is heard giving a range of monetary estimates.
According to Planned Parenthood, Nucatola "was speculating on the range of reimbursement that affiliates can receive after patients state they wish to donate tissue after a procedure."