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Planned Parenthood videos divide House panel

WASHINGTON (BP) — Republicans and Democrats remained far apart not only on the abortion issue but on the evidence for the grisly, maybe illegal trafficking practices of the country’s largest abortion provider during the first of a two-part House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday (Sept. 9).

Republican leaders scheduled the hearing on whether Planned Parenthood clinics are violating federal laws in providing fetal tissue for research after the release of nine undercover videos since mid-July that have included discussions by Planned Parenthood officials of the sale of organs from aborted children.

The videos, recorded secretly by hidden camera by the Center for Medical Progress, also show Planned Parenthood executives acknowledging their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use. In one video, evidence is provided of a clinic worker cutting into the face of a living child outside the womb to procure a brain.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore expressed gratitude for Congress’ investigation of Planned Parenthood.

“The recent videos have exposed a ghoulish form of human piracy that is at the heart of Planned Parenthood’s daily operations,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “My prayer is that the visceral truth of what is captured on camera will cut through political rhetoric and unite our lawmakers from both sides in condemning this heinous form of human trafficking.”

Unity across party lines was in short supply during the Sept. 9 hearing, which focused on whether Planned Parenthood is violating bans on the late-term, partial-birth abortion method and the killing of born-alive infants. Republicans decried Planned Parenthood’s practices while Democrats decried the videos and the hearing.

Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., a pro-life leader in Congress, said the videos “irrefutably reveal officers of Planned Parenthood haggling over the price” of body parts. Franks expressed dismay that President Obama and many members of Congress “have not uttered one single syllable against these gut-wrenching atrocities. … For God’s sake, is this who we truly are?

“The sands of time should blow over this Capitol dome before we ever give Planned Parenthood another dime of taxpayer money,” Franks said.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., told committee members, witnesses and observers, “What I cannot understand is that [those on the other side] cannot say that there is no act that’s too far, there’s no act that’s too brutal, there’s no act that’s not acceptable even for Planned Parenthood.”

Franks and Forbes are both members of Southern Baptist churches.

Among Democrats on the committee, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the committee’s ranking member, claimed that the videos are “deceptively edited.” The videos provide “no credible evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law” and “no evidence that Planned Parenthood has altered methods,” said Conyers, who has been in Congress for 50 years.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D.-Tenn., asserted the videos “have been doctored.” The hearing is “about a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “Planned Parenthood is part of my DNA. It is one of the finest organizations in this country.”

The videos, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D.-N.Y., are “a farce to shame women.” The videos’ producers are “liars in a long line of liars,” he charged.

While Planned Parenthood and its Democratic allies have charged the Center for Medical Progress with fraud, the investigative organization has released not only edited versions of the videos, but it also has posted what it describes as full footage at its website of the conversations between PPFA officials and its undercover individuals acting as representatives of a biologics firm.

Republican members expressed shock at an answer provided by the lone witness in the hearing who supports abortion rights.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., the committee chairman, asked Priscilla Smith if a D and E — or dismemberment — abortion represents a “humane way to die.” The D and E method involves the tearing apart of the unborn child piece by piece until the womb is vacated.

Smith responded, “I believe for a pre-viable fetus, yes, a D and E procedure is a very humane procedure, and it protects the woman and her health and safety more than any other procedure.”

Goodlatte said, “[Y]our view of humanity and mine are different.”

Smith is director of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice.

James Bopp, general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, said it is clear in the videos Planned Parenthood’s practice violates federal and state laws, “ethical and moral principles and their own guidelines and promises to their patients.”

The other two witnesses in a hearing that lasted more than three and a half hours were abortion survivors Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen. Both survived saline abortions at seven months’ gestation or more in 1977 and lived with the aid of nurses. They both were adopted.

During the hearing, GOP committee members pointed to the need for the Senate to approve legislation to prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. The House voted 242-184 for the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act in May but the Senate has yet to hold a vote.

In early August, the Senate fell short in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Senators voted 53-46 to bring to the floor a bill to eliminate federal funds for the organization and its affiliates. While a majority of senators favored consideration of the proposal, the attempt to invoke cloture, as it is known, fell short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation and establish a path to its passage.

House Republicans reportedly are in a battle over strategy to approve defunding legislation. While a stand-alone bill, as in the Senate, is favored by some GOP members, others want to tie it to a must-pass spending bill, which would threaten a government shutdown if Obama is unwilling to sign it into law. As a promoter of Planned Parenthood, the president is highly unlikely to enact such a bill.

While the federal government has failed so far to defund Planned Parenthood, five states have acted to do so. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Utah have eliminated funds for the organization since the video releases began.

The ERLC and other opponents of government funding for Planned Parenthood have tried in previous congressional sessions to cut off money for the organization and other abortion providers but have always fallen short. In 2011, an effort to bring a PPFA defunding bill to the Senate floor received only 42 votes.

In its latest financial report (2013-14), PPFA said it received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements. It performed 327,653 abortions during 2013.