Ken Paxton denounces abortion in Planned Parenthood hearing

Addressing a state Senate hearing Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton promised an aggressive investigation into whether state abortion facilities have broken laws limiting the donation of fetal tissue and organs for medical research.

But, regardless of what the investigation finds, Paxton said, recently released hidden-camera interviews displaying “cold, calculating, almost inhuman indifference” by Planned Parenthood officials revealed inhuman practices associated with abortion.

“The true abomination in all this is the institution of abortion,” Paxton told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, these types of horrors will continue.”

Planned Parenthood officials declined an invitation to testify, calling the hearing a sham.

“We believe this committee has no desire to hold a responsible, fair, fact-driven hearing. In fact, this committee cares more about political gamesmanship than the truth,” Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chairman of the committee.

Kenneth Lambrecht with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which includes Austin, told Schwertner that it had nothing to offer because its clinics have never participated in fetal tissue donation and research.

Planned Parenthood lawyer Deborah Hiser brought written testimony to the committee, telling the panel that she had recommended that agency officials decline to testify because “we’re under active investigation at this time” by Paxton’s agency. “We’ve been served with a subpoena request from the attorney general,” she said.

Federal law bars the sale of fetal tissue, but it allows clinics to be reimbursed for the costs of providing organs. Federal law also bars clinics from changing abortion procedures to procure fetal tissue.

The Center for Medical Progress, a California group that opposes abortion, has in recent weeks released three undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials in other states discussing, in sometimes graphic terms, the availability of fetal tissue and organs for medical research.

The center claims the videos show officials improperly haggling over prices and offering to change abortion procedures to procure organs in violation of federal law.

Planned Parenthood insists its officials complied with the law and accused the center of manipulative editing and supplying leading questions.

During Wednesday’s 4½-hour hearing, Paxton acknowledged that his office has received a long, hidden-camera video of a Texas abortion clinic — believed to be Planned Parenthood’s Houston facility — but declined to discuss details because it is part of an active investigation. Senators and staff members, however, were allowed to view the tapes to prepare for the hearing.

Asked by Schwertner if the video or investigation has revealed any broken laws by Planned Parenthood, Paxton said it was too early to respond. “I want to finish our investigation,” he said. “I’d be overstepping, I think, if I answered.”

Schwertner criticized Planned Parenthood for skipping the hearing, saying he wanted to ask how they procure tissue, what they consider a reimbursable expense and how they inform women — who must consent before tissue can be donated — about the practice of donating fetal organs.

“I think that shows their true colors,” he said.

Schwertner, who indicated additional hearings on fetal tissue donation could be held, said he also was interested in exploring ways to tighten state abortion regulations.

Eight states bar fetal tissue donations from abortion providers, and 17 others have placed limits on the practice, Schwertner said. Texas law is silent on fetal tissue donations — something that could change in the 2017 legislative session, he said.

The committee also heard from four activists who oppose abortion, including John Seago with Texas Right to Life, who said his organization opposes any use of tissue or organs collected as the result of an abortion.

Abby Johnson, a former director for Planned Parenthood’s now-closed Bryan clinic and now an abortion opponent, said during her eight years with the organization, doctors regularly changed abortion procedures to better procure organs.

The committee only heard testimony from invited witnesses. Aside from Planned Parenthood officials, no abortion rights supporters were called to testify.

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