Texas Senate Readies for Hearing Over Fetal Tissue Sales

Wednesday, the Texas Senate will take the first real step in an investigation of Planned Parenthood ordered by Governor Greg Abbott. The governor, along with virtually every other Republican in the state, is in a tizzy over two videos recently released by the Center for Medical Progress.

The videos, recorded as part of thousands of hours of secret filming by CMP, show Planned Parenthood executives discussing fetal tissue donation. CMP claims the Planned Parenthood employees are talking about the for-profit harvesting of aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood says their executives are discussing minimal cost reimbursements for tissue donations to support research. CMP claims to be an investigative journalism project, but its board members have strong ties to anti-abortion groups. One member of CMP's board, Troy Newman, is the president of Operation Rescue. Operation Rescue is the group that protested and harassed Wichita, Kansas, doctor George Tiller for years before Tiller was shot and killed in 2009 by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.

Planned Parenthood believes CMP has given the committee holding the hearing, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, a preview copy of a video filmed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston.

"In April, individuals fraudulently representing themselves as research executives from a shell company called BioMax Procurement Services, LLC, visited Planned Parenthood’s health center in Houston. They provided fake identification to enter our health center under the guise of discussing research with clinical research staff. We suspect that they were secretly taping those conversations and that those interactions in our facility will be included in another of their highly edited and deceptive videos," Planned Parenthood says. 

BioMax is the name of the fictitious tissue research organization created by CMP to get meetings with Planned Parenthood employees.

Charles Schwertner, the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said in a prepared statement that he called the meeting to determine whether Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas or Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast are making money from harvested fetuses. PPGT and PPGC — both of which say they don't currently participate in any fetal tissue research — have both been asked to testify at the hearing. PPGC has asked Schwertner to share the video with the organization before the hearing. Schwertner's office confirmed the video's existence late Monday.

"The Texas Attorney General has granted limited legislative privilege to members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to review a video obtained by the Office of the Attorney General as part of their ongoing investigation into the activities of Planned Parenthood in Texas. Committee members from both parties are currently reviewing the video and gathering all the relevant facts in advance of Wednesday's scheduled hearing," Thomas Holloway, Schwertner's chief of staff, said via email.

As long as Planned Parenthood is not actually profiting from the sale of harvested fetus parts, it's not clear what else the state could do to the organization. Texas cut all state funding to the organization in 2011.

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