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Lawmakers Reviewing Video in Texas Planned Parenthood Inquiry

Legislators on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee are being offered the chance to view a video obtained by the Texas attorney general's office as part of its inquiry into Planned Parenthood's practices regarding fetal tissue donation.

Sen. Charles Schwertner R-Georgetown, at a February Texas Tribune event.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Legislators on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee are being offered the chance to view a video obtained by the Texas attorney general's office as part of its inquiry into Planned Parenthood's practices regarding fetal tissue donation. 

A spokesman for Republican committee chairman Charles Schwertner confirmed that lawmakers on the committee and their staffers are "currently reviewing the video and gathering all the relevant facts" ahead of a Wednesday hearing on Planned Parenthood's "business practices" when it comes to fetal tissue. 

Texas' Republican leadership called for investigations into Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state after the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress released two videos depicting Planned Parenthood executives nationally talking about how their providers obtain fetal tissue for medical research.

A spokeswoman for the AG's office said she could not confirm whether the video footage that's been made available to committee members was obtained from the Center for Medical Progress or comment on its contents because it is part of an ongoing investigation.

"General [Ken] Paxton will be testifying on Wednesday, so that should shed light" on remaining questions about the video's origin and contents, the spokeswoman, Cynthia Meyer, said.

Multiple requests for comment from the Center for Medical Progress have not been returned.

The Texas Tribune reported earlier Monday that two people posing as research executives with Biomax Procurement Services, a shell company created by the Center for Medical Progress, visited Planned Parenthood's Houston facilities in April.

“We suspect that they were secretly taping those conversations and those interactions in our building will be included in another of their highly edited and deceptive videos," Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla said Sunday.

The individuals “fraudulently representing themselves” as research executives provided fake California driver's licenses and toured Planned Parenthood's Houston facilities in April “under the guise of discussing tissue research with our clinic research staff,” Tafolla said.

Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas do not currently donate tissue for medical researchaccording to the organization.

The AG's office granted lawmakers and their staff access to the video under the legislative privilege provided to members of the Legislature by open government laws, said Thomas Holloway, a Schwertner spokesman. 

Legislative privilege allows state agencies to provide confidential information to lawmakers who request it "for legislative purposes."  

Bracing for a secretly recorded video to be released, an attorney for Planned Parenthood sent a letter to Schwertner's office on Sunday saying the organization believed that the committee chairman had access to a video recorded by the Center for Medical Progress at a Houston clinic. The organization asked to view the video out of "fairness" ahead of Wednesday's committee hearing.

On Monday, Tafolla said Schwertner's office referred their request to the attorney general's office. Planned Parenthood then sent a letter to the AG's office requesting to view the video, saying that "because the videotape has already been reviewed by such Members and staff, it is no longer privileged."

Two videos previously released by the Center for Medical Progress have stirred up allegations that Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an accusation the organization has vehemently denied

Planned Parenthood officials say the videos are misleading because the organization does not profit from tissue donations and only receives reimbursements for costs incurred by clinics that participate in tissue donations.

Federal law allows clinics to be reimbursed for costs “associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control or storage of human fetal tissue” for research purposes.

The AG's office has launched its own probe into Planned Parenthood, and investigators have visited the Houston clinic.

Tafolla, of Planned Parenthood, said investigators with the Department of State Health Services also visited the Houston facility, requesting information about the clinic's practices regarding fetal tissue donations.

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the state health department, has declined to comment on the investigation.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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