The House voted Wednesday to set up a special panel to probe whether Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are following the law when harvesting fetal tissue for research.
Buoyed by Republicans, the chamber voted 242-184 to set up a select committee that could shine a light on the controversial women’s health provider for months, after a conservative-led bid to strip its federal funding as part of a recent spending showdown ran into Democratic opposition.
While the GOP has targeted Planned Parenthood over its abortion practice before, its efforts reached new heights after the release of several undercover videos that appeared to show organization officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts. Such sales are only legal if they are not done for profit. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing.
“This is a discussion that this country must have; we cannot shy away from what is an unsettling topic,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican and vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill by Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican, creates a panel that subsumes the Energy of Commerce Committee’s probe of how abortion providers handle and transfer fetal tissue, and if corrective legislation is needed. It will be composed of 14 members, eight Republicans and six Democrats, and will use existing funds instead of appropriating new money.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will continue to investigate how Planned Parenthood is funded, and the Judiciary Committee will explore whether the organization has broken existing laws.
All but one Republican, Rep. David Jolly of Florida, voted to set up a select committee, and only two Democrats, Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Dan Lipinski of Illinois, voted “yes.”
Democrats on both sides of the Capitol blasted the creation of another panel as a “baseless and politically motivated” attack on women’s health and a waste of time, as Congress tackles budget negotiations, highway funding and whether to extend the nation’s borrowing authority.
“Well, here we go again. Planned Parenthood is the new Benghazi,” Rep. Lois Frankel, Florida Democrat, said, comparing the effort to a Republican-led select committee investigating the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said a pair of Republicans seeking the speaker post, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, have cast doubt on both probes in televised remarks — the former tying the Benghazi panel to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political fortunes as the 2016 Democratic front-runner, and the latter unable to say whether Planned Parenthood did anything illegal.
In combative testimony to Mr. Chaffetz’s oversight committee last month, 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.
“If they haven’t broken the law, what are we doing here?” Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, said.
But GOP lawmakers said Planned Parenthood’s backers would be shocked by the videos if they’d actually watched them, quoting abortion providers who in the clips describe how they would crush fetal body parts in a certain way to harvest them for research.
“This is one of the most repulsive things you can watch, it turns your stomach to see [it],” Rep. Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican, said.
The showdown over Planned Parenthood brought Congress to the brink of a government shutdown last month, when conservatives vowed to reject any spending measure that did not defund the organization.
Though no federal funds may be used for abortion, pro-life lawmakers feel they should not prop up Planned Parenthood through taxpayer funding.
An effort to fund basic government operations through Dec. 11 while defunding the organization ran into a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, prompting GOP leaders to come back with a “clean” funding resolution that didn’t target it.
A majority of House Republicans — 151 of them — voted against the measure, which nonetheless passed with the help of Democratic votes.