The Justice Department has formally asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to view unredacted documents it received from abortion providers during the committee’s probe into Planned Parenthood. The FBI made a request for these same documents in November.
The DOJ's letter confirms the existence of a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood’s dubious practices regarding the sale of fetal tissue, something pro-life activists have been pushing for since 2015.
“At this point, the records are intended for investigative use only – we understand that a resolution from the Senate may be required if the Department were to use any of the unredacted materials in a formal legal proceeding, such as a grand jury,” wrote Stephen Boyd, who heads the DOJ’s office of legislative affairs.
Federal law bans the sale of fetal tissue for profit, but abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are legally allowed to price fetal tissue for research in order to make up for the costs of obtaining it. Planned Parenthood has been accused of overpricing body parts to make a profit.
These accusations surfaced in 2015 when the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of videos that appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The videos generated considerable public outrage, and Planned Parenthood promised to stop accepting reimbursement from researchers for fetal tissue.
Investigations were launched in 13 states and by 3 Congressional committees, but Planned Parenthood has yet to be found guilty of breaking the law. Planned Parenthood insists it did nothing unethical and has dismissed the accusations as a GOP “smear campaign” aimed to limit reproductive healthcare for women.
“Over two years ago, citizen journalists at the Center for Medical Progress first caught Planned Parenthood’s top abortion doctors in a series of undercover videos callously and flippantly negotiating the sale of tiny baby hearts, lungs, livers, and brains,” said CMP founder David Daleiden. “It is time for public officials to finally hold Planned Parenthood and their criminal abortion enterprise accountable under the law.”
In March, Daleiden and fellow activist Sandra Merritt were charged with criminal conspiracy to invade privacy and 14 counts of filming people without their permission.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has blamed the Department of Justice for failing to “enforce the law that bans the buying and selling of human fetal tissue" and has argued that his committee's 2016 probe uncovered ample evidence to prove that Planned Parenthood is in the practice of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue and baby body parts.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, argues that the 2016 report was only presented to the Republicans on the committee.
“I hope that there isn’t a partisan purpose in taking this action and that the department handles the chairman’s request in a professional and ethical manner,” said Feinstein.
Pro-life activists celebrated news of the DOJ’s investigation. “I think it’s fantastic, and I think the House and Senate should follow up by defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the March for Life. “There’s no way taxpayer funds should be going to an organization under investigation like this.”