In the wake of the release this week of another undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for a Department of Justice investigation — but that's where any bipartisan agreement ends.
Republicans want Attorney General Loretta Lynch to probe whether the nation's largest provider of abortions is illegally harvesting and selling fetal organs and tissue, while Democrats want the Justice Department to look at whether the anti-abortion activists behind the videos went too far with their secretive recordings.
Democrats on Tuesday called for an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group that has released two videos (and has promised more) that show Planned Parenthood executives discussing costs and procedures involved in their fetal tissue donation programs.
Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Zoe Lofgren of California and Jerrold Nadler and Yvette D. Clarke from New York jointly sent a letter to Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris asking for an investigation into whether the CMP broke any laws in going after Planned Parenthood.
"I know Planned Parenthood," Lofgren told CQ Roll Call. "It's one of those trusted organizations in my community. Unless I see proof to the contrary, I would be inclined to believe what Planned Parenthood is saying about this." Lofgren serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which along with Energy and Commerce is looking into Planned Parenthood's practices.
Planned Parenthood Vice President Eric Ferrero said in a statement the videos are part of a decade-long campaign to restrict abortion rights by "deceiving the public, making false charges and terrorizing women and their doctors."
The first video, which surfaced last week, prompted the Republican chairs of both Judiciary and Energy and Commerce to call for hearings, and House GOP leaders have already cited the heavily-edited CMP clip as justification to push forward legislation that would restrict abortions and pull federal funding from Planned Parenthood.
Several states have also launched their own investigations into state chapters of the women's health organization.
But Democratic House members, along with abortion-rights advocates across the country, are pushing back hard.
Wednesday's letter sent to the attorneys general questioned the CMP's credibility and the legality of its undercover operation under California laws regarding consent for audio-video recordings. Democrats also contend the group's executive director, David Daleiden, has a checkered history, including involvement with the anti-abortion group Live Action and connections to controversial anti-abortion activist Troy Newman.
Daleiden put out a statement Wednesday, saying Planned Parenthood was using "political cronies" to persecute him and to "avoid accountability to the law and the American people."
Schakowsky said Democrats were prepared to stand up for Planned Parenthood if Republicans try to cut federal funding.
"Republicans are so out of touch with where women are at right now," she said, insisting that private decisions about women's health care should not be in the hands of politicians. "This battle is a battle that these Republicans will lose because women are not going to go back."
Democrats also raised concerns about the possible coordination between CMP and Republican congressmen, based on a story first reported by Roll Call last week.
Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin is one of the few Democratic members of the House Pro-life Caucus. Although he opposes abortion, he respects Planned Parenthood's other services for women's health so he hasn't decided if he would vote to pull federal funding from the organization. "I'd want to know all the facts first but at this point I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude," he said.
Planned Parenthood has said the CMP videos, in which anti-abortion activists posing as buyers for a phony bio-medical research firm chat with officials about procuring fetal organs and tissues left over after abortions, are deceptively edited and that the CMP attempted to induce staff into possible criminal behavior.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced a bill to prohibit any sale of fetal tissue acquired from abortions, which is currently legal as long as there is no monetary profit from the sale.
On the other side of the Capitol, a bipartisan group of 50 senators sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, urging cooperation with investigations and asking for an internal review of Planned Parenthood's compliance with federal regulations. Just a day earlier, Sen. Ted Cruz's office told a publication he would add an amendment to the highway bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, promised last week he would take similar steps.
Lynch briefly addressed the Planned Parenthood videos Wednesday at a press conference, telling reporters, "At this point, we’re going to review all the information and determine what steps, if any, to take at the appropriate time."
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