Texas Senate's Fetal Parts-Sale Hearing Was as Bizarre as You'd Expect

Ken Paxton testifies to the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
Ken Paxton testifies to the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
State of Texas

The point, if there was one, was to say the words "baby parts" as many times as possible, as if they were a mantra.

For four and a half hours Wednesday, the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services solicited testimony about fetal tissue donation from anti-abortion activists, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and state health officials. They did not hear anything from Planned Parenthood, the women's health provider targeted in secretly filmed videos made by the Center for Medical Progress, a group that calls themselves citizen journalists but has deep ties to the most rabid and violent fringes of the anti-abortion movement.

CMP's heavily edited videos show Planned Parenthood executives discussing the elective process of fetal tissue donation. Potential reimbursements for transportation and storage costs are discussed, leading to the accusation gleefully leveled by CMP and others that Planned Parenthood is selling harvested fetuses for parts. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Paxton have taken full political advantage of the videos, ordering investigations of any potential fetal tissue donation programs in Texas, despite the fact that no Planned Parenthood in Texas has participated in such a program in five years. That's not important, though, as Paxton said Friday in front of the committee. What's important is getting rid of legal abortion in Texas.

"The videos that have made all the headlines raise a large number of troubling allegations, allegations that — again — my office is aggressively investigating and we will go to any and all lawful lengths to get to the bottom of what has been happening. But more than any misdeeds involving the sale of aborted baby parts is this fundamental truth: the true abomination in all this is the institution of abortion," Paxton said. "Even if their body parts are never sold, or never used for research, for the babies who are killed in abortion clinics — more than 54,000 last year in Texas and more than 57 million in the United States since 1973 — their fate is a plastic bag in a refrigerator and anonymous disposal in an incinerator somewhere."

In the run-up to Wednesday, Paxton's office got its hands on another video, one that hasn't been released to the public, that was purportedly filmed inside of Planned Parenthood In Houston. Paxton said Wednesday that his office did indeed have hours of video, but did not discuss those videos' contents. Instead, Paxton detailed a visit by investigators commissioned by his office to a clinic in Houston.

"Our investigators are working across Texas to gather information and evidence relevant to the case. Last week, after a meeting at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, officials there invited our team to take a look around, including a stop at what they call the ‘POC Room.’ POC stands for ‘Products of Conception.’ There, lab technicians receive the remains of aborted children — also known as ‘the products’ —  which are washed, examined, bagged, refrigerated, accumulated and every week taken away by a contractor that burns their bodies as medical waste," he said, not saying how his statements related to fetal tissue research, the subject supposedly being investigated.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the organization that oversees DFW's Planned Parenthood clinics, declined to testify at Wednesday's hearing.

"The health centers and ambulatory surgical centers affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have never participated in fetal tissue donation or research. As a result, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas does not plan to appear on Wednesday, as it is not clear what the organization could offer in regards to the committee’s inquiry on this particular topic," PPGT President Kenneth Lambrecht said in a letter to committee Chairman Charles Schwertner.

The only person affiliated at any point with Planned Parenthood to testify was Abby Johnson, a former clinic director for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast who is now an anti-abortion activist.

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Johnson said that she witnessed and participated in the sale of fetus parts for profit from 2007-2009 at the clinic she managed in Bryan, violating state and federal law. Since her conversion, Johnson said she she's made calls for multiple state agencies in support of Texas anti-abortion legislation. Johnson also did private investigation work for the attorney general's office in support of the legislation, she said. She didn't provide any evidence of fetal tissue donation or sale, illegal or otherwise, that has occurred since 2009 or that could be independently verified. 

During the next legislative session in 2017, Republicans on the committee suggested that they'd like to enact a ban on fetal tissue research in the state or at least give the state health department greater regulatory power over the practice. As the lengthy hearing was still ongoing, Abbott confirmed that the state was launching a further civil and criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood.


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