See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
House Republicans have held four hearings since September investigating Planned Parenthood. They claim that deceptively edited videos released by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), raise serious questions about whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.
They’ve said these questions justify creating a new select committee looking into the issue indefinitely.
Yet several Republican members of Congress admitted at Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee Hearing that there’s either no evidence Planned Parenthood broke the law, or that the point of the congressional investigation is really to debate the morality of abortion.
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“Did we find any wrongdoing? The answer was no,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in reference to a recent hearing he chaired in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Chaffetz was trying to clarify recent comments he made to the media that he “wasn’t suggesting [Planned Parenthood] broke the law.” Democrats have repeatedly cited this quote as evidence that the “investigation” into Planned Parenthood is a politically motivated witch hunt.
Chaffetz argued that his comments shouldn’t have been taken as “some grand conclusion” about every facet of the Planned Parenthood investigation, since his particular committee hearing was “narrowly focused” on Planned Parenthood’s finances, not other issues like fetal tissue research.
“Did I look at the finances and have a hearing specifically as to the revenue portion and how they spend? Yes. Was there any wrongdoing? I didn’t find any,” Chaffetz said.
Asked whether he knows of any evidence that Planned Parenthood broke the law in any way, Chaffetz cited none.
“I think some of the video that’s been out there, the rumors that have been swirling, some of the testimony that we’ve heard, causes a lot of people to legitimately ask and dive into whether what they’re doing is illegal,” Chaffetz said.
This has been a consistent pattern in the Republican-led Planned Parenthood hearings.
Democrats (and major media outlets) will point out that even the “unedited” CMP videos were altered and are thus unreliable as evidence. They will then demand that Republicans offer any real evidence they may have that Planned Parenthood broke the law.
Republicans will dodge this by insisting that the investigations are not complete (even though seven states investigating Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of lawbreaking), and argue that the discredited videos still “raise questions” about whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) admitted that the “purpose” of the Planned Parenthood hearings are to question the morality of legal abortion and legal fetal tissue donation, not to investigate whether any laws have been broken.
Forbes had just grilled American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson on whether a passage from the first CMP video described something “too brutal” for her. She didn’t answer to his satisfaction, so Forbes asked the record to reflect that she hadn’t answered the question.
“They won’t say that any procedure is too far, or not enough, or is too brutal. And that’s the purpose of these hearings,” Forbes said. “Because there’s a big difference between saying there may not be a law to protect against something, it may not be illegal, and to say there was no wrongdoing done. Because I think what we heard on that tape was wrongdoing.”
Forbes’ comment was similar to recent testimony from Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest, who was forced to admit that she was not making a legal argument about Planned Parenthood’s misdeeds, but a moral one.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who earlier in the hearing used a tiny diaper for a premature infant as a visual aid, also acknowledged that the real point of the hearing was to discuss the morality of abortion.
“The central question is, does abortion kill a little baby?” he said. “If abortion doesn’t kill a little baby, then I am here to pretty much suggest that we shouldn’t be having such a hearing, or anything like that.”
The hearing, which was called “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining Abortion Procedures and Medical Ethics at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider,” featured three witnesses who are long-term anti-choice activists, and Fredrickson, who argued the pro-choice side from a legal perspective and in her personal capacity.
None of the anti-choice witnesses offered credible testimony that Planned Parenthood has broken any laws.
One witness, Dr. Anthony Levatino, played a video that allegedly featured abortion clinic staffers discussing very late abortions, at 25 and 27 weeks, with women on the phone.
But after Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) forced Levatino to admit that the video wasn’t from Planned Parenthood, and since the hearing’s purpose was to discuss Planned Parenthood, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) successfully moved that the video be stricken from the record. Republicans who had left the room returned in order to overrule that motion, however.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) asked Levatino whether he, in his experience as an OB-GYN, knew of anyone from Planned Parenthood who had lost their medical license. Levatino did not.
“Case closed!” Cohen said.
Cohen played a video, edited by Democratic staff, that showed every time Deborah Nucatola explicitly said that fetal tissue donation is not intended or allowed to make a profit for Planned Parenthood affiliates. All but one of those comments were entirely edited out of the first CMP video.