Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has resurrected a request that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecute Planned Parenthood for illegally selling fetal body parts, an allegation he appears to base primarily on a report of baseless accusations sparked by a two-year-old attack campaign on Planned Parenthood led by anti-choice activists.
These are the same activists that the California Attorney General’s Office last month charged with 15 felonies for unlawfully recording people and conspiring to invade their privacy during the campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was coordinated with GOP lawmakers.
Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, sent a letter last week to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey, inquiring about a letter he sent in December referring Planned Parenthood Federation of America and four of its state affiliates, along with three tissue-procurement companies, for criminal prosecution related to Planned Parenthood’s former fetal tissue donation program.
Grassley sent that initial letter in the final months of the Obama administration. This time around, his letter is received by those sympathetic to his calls to criminally investigate Planned Parenthood. Sessions, the recipient of Grassley’s latest request, once called on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate the reproductive health-care organization for discredited allegations brought by anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).
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“Because the referral came during a presidential transition, when Justice Department personnel and enforcement priorities were likely in flux, it is important that the Committee ensure the referral and the report are being given proper consideration, or that they will be given proper consideration once appropriate appointees are in place to do so,” Grassley wrote in his most recent letter.
Grassley has called for the criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Planned Parenthood Mar Monte; Planned Parenthood Los Angeles; Planned Parenthood Northern California; Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest; StemExpress, LLC; Advanced Bioscience Resources; and Novogenix Laboratories, LLC. He noted that the DOJ did not respond to his previous request for prosecution.
CMP’s campaign targeting Planned Parenthood began in July 2015 and prompted Republicans in Congress to launch an investigation into the health-care organization, eventually leading Grassley to make his criminal referrals. Then-Sen. Sessions signed on to a letter with other senators calling for the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Health to conduct “a full investigation” to find out if Planned Parenthood violated federal law.
Neither congressional investigations, nor state investigations, nor a Texas grand jury investigation have produced evidence showing Planned Parenthood acted illegally when a few of its affiliates donated fetal tissue to medical researchers and collected reimbursement fees, as allowed by federal law.
Grassley bolstered his criminal referral with a 547-page report produced by his staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He claims the report draws from a review of more than 20,000 pages of documents, including internal financial documents from the accused organizations and legislative history of laws related to fetal tissue.
That report does not provide any concrete evidence that the implicated Planned Parenthood entities violated federal law, as Grassley claims.
The report includes numerous unfounded assertions, including a claim that Planned Parenthood changed its internal policy on fetal procurement tissue in 2011 to “turn a blind eye” to wrongdoing by its affiliates. The report does not dispute, however, that the Planned Parenthood policies documented have explicitly required affiliates to follow federal law.
The report includes inflammatory material, including graphic anecdotes about research practices in 1970s Finland that discuss experimenting on live fetuses immediately after abortions. This information, while potentially disturbing to readers, appears to be irrelevant to the discussion of whether Planned Parenthood and the named tissue-procurement companies broke the law, as the report never directly accuses them of these practices.
The report suggests the federal government has not performed proper oversight regarding fetal tissue donations, noting that the Department of Justice has never prosecuted an entity for breaking federal fetal tissue donation laws and has conducted only two investigations of potential violations. The report then goes on to introduce information known to be patently false after the FBI investigated it nearly two decades ago.
The report includes the transcript of a 20/20 episode from 2000, which was, as Rewire has reported, discredited when the key source recanted his story during a congressional inquiry. The witness admitted that he had lied because the anti-choice group Life Dynamics paid him $10,000, and he told them “what they wanted to hear” because he “needed the money.”
Grassley’s report introduces damning quotes from the 20/20 program before admitting the primary witness was a fraud and the operation was stoked by an activist group that works to criminalize abortion care.
Grassley has asked the Department of Justice to provide written confirmation that relevant personnel have reviewed his criminal referral by May 8.
A spokesperson for the department told Rewire in an email that the agency has received and is reviewing Grassley’s letter. The spokesperson could not confirm whether the DOJ has launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood or the tissue procurement companies.
Rewire staffers Sharona Coutts and Imani Gandy contributed to this report.