- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general has agreed to probe how the Obama administration funds and oversees research involving fetal tissue, according to Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who drew a straight line Tuesday between the audit and undercover videos that appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

The inspector general’s office told Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican running for president, that it will interview officials at HHS and specifically the National Institutes of Health, which awards most of the funding for human fetal-tissue research.

It will also probe whether the government is conducting adequate oversight of the research to make sure that it complies with the law.

Activists at the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos this year that implied that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, skirted the law when it harvested and transferred fetal body parts. Such sales are legal only if they are not done for profit, although the organization says it didn’t do anything wrong.

In combative testimony to a House panel in September, Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards said the edited videos were an effort to “entrap” the organization, and that stripping her organization of federal funding would cut off access to birth control, cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Yet Republicans and pro-life groups urged Congress to defund the group, while Mr. Paul requested an investigation from HHS’ inspector general.

“I am encouraged to see the Inspector General take action to investigate Planned Parenthood’s unconscionable practices,” Mr. Paul said in a prepared 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.”

Mr. Paul requested the audit in an October letter signed by 35 Senate Republicans. Among other things, the Kentuckian wants to know how much third parties paid to Planned Parenthood or similar entities for the tissue, how the prices were set and how NIH ensures that no one is profiting from the transfer.

He also would like to know how research groups certify their compliance with existing law.

For its part, Planned Parenthood welcomed the “timely” audit, saying it has been asking NIH since July to create an independent panel to conduct the first examination of fetal tissue-research standards since the Reagan administration.

“As we have made clear from the beginning, Planned Parenthood has never sold fetal tissue for profit,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Instead, currently, we help women in two states who wish to do so donate tissue to this important medical research,” she said. “These false and baseless claims against Planned Parenthood have been made by a fringe group of anti-abortion activists with the express goal of trying to end access to safe and legal abortion in this country.”

The House voted in October to set up a select committee to find out whether Planned Parenthood and similar abortion providers are following the law when harvesting fetal tissue for research.

Republican lawmakers gave up a fight to defund the organization as part of a year-end spending battle, however.

Instead, it is pushing a fast-track bill that would gut Obamacare and strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding for one year as punishment for its abortion practice.

The House is set to approve Senate changes to the bill as one of its first actions in 2016, although Mr. Obama will veto the measure.

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