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Texas Lawmakers Set to Scrutinize Planned Parenthood

A Texas Senate panel will meet Wednesday to scrutinize Planned Parenthood practices in the aftermath of the release of undercover videos of the abortion provider's executives discussing fetal tissue donation.

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A Texas Senate panel will meet Wednesday to scrutinize Planned Parenthood practices in the aftermath of the release of undercover videos of the abortion provider's executives discussing fetal tissue donation.  

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee is expected to examine whether Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas are illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an allegation stirred up by videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. Posing as research executives, members of that anti-abortion group secretly recorded meetings with Planned Parenthood executives discussing how fetal tissue is obtained for medical research.

Planned Parenthood has fiercely denied accusations that it is profiting from fetal tissue donations and condemned the undercover videos, saying they are misleading because the organization only receives reimbursements for costs incurred by clinics that participate in tissue donations.

But the release of the videos prompted calls for investigations from Texas’ Republican leadership, which led to a probe by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is expected to provide testimony during the hearing.

In announcing the hearing earlier this month, Republican committee chairman Charles Schwertner of Georgetown said the committee would focus on determining whether Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas were selling fetal tissue and what steps could be “taken to put a swift and decisive stop to it.” 

“I know many Texans are equally horrified by such a callous disregard for innocent human life,” Schwertner said in a previous statement.

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

Among its Texas affiliates, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston participated in fetal tissue donation as late as 2010, when it partnered with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for a study on causes of miscarriage.

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.

Planned Parenthood leaders in Texas have characterized the state’s reaction to the videos as political grandstanding.

“It is important to note that the source of these videos is a group of extremists who have launched a decade-long campaign of deceiving the public, making false charges and intimidating women and doctors in their agenda to ban abortion completely and cut women off from care at Planned Parenthood,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of the organization’s political arm in Texas, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “But that doesn’t matter to politicians with a long-standing political agenda to end access to safe, legal abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.”

The Center for Medical Progress has not responded to requests for comment.

The committee hearing comes on the heels of a revelation by Planned Parenthood that the anti-abortion group behind the videos visited the organization’s Houston facilities in April and confirmation that senators on the committee were granted access to a video obtained by the Texas attorney general’s office as part of its probe into Planned Parenthood’s practices regarding fetal tissue donation.

The attorney general’s office has declined to comment on the contents of the video and whether it was obtained from the Center for Medical Progress.

As of Tuesday evening, Planned Parenthood had not said whether it would send representatives from its Texas affiliates to testify before the committee. Schwertner had asked the organization to testify at the hearing.

Ahead of the committee hearing, the organization had been pushing for access to the video shown to lawmakers. In a letter sent to the attorney general's office, Planned Parenthood said that “because the videotape has already been reviewed by such Members and staff, it is no longer privileged.”

On Tuesday, attorney general spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said the video was part of an active investigation and that the office would “respond to their request in due course.”

Also testifying at the hearing will be representatives from prominent Texas anti-abortion groups, including a former Planned Parenthood director.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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