A major women’s health and family planning group at the eye of a conservative-led storm threatening to shut down the US government defended its controversial fetal tissue research on Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood, an NGO that receives federal money, is under sustained attack from congressional Republicans, some of whom want to defund it on grounds that the government should not be paying for abortions.
Conservative critics, many of whom seek to outlaw abortion in the United States, have accused the organization of selling fetal organs and body parts for profit, and encouraging women to have abortions in order to expand such operations.
“Planned Parenthood is proud of its limited role in supporting fetal tissue research,” the group’s president Cecile Richards said in testimony before a congressional panel investigating the organization.
“Using fetal tissue in lifesaving medical research is legal,” and fewer than one percent of Planned Parenthood health centers facilitate the donation of such tissue for research, she added.
“Donating fetal tissue is something many of our patients want to do, and regularly request.”
The scandal mushroomed this year when anti-abortion activists released videos they secretly recorded of Planned Parenthood officials discussing use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research.
The activists, releasing edited footage from hours of recordings, accuse the officials of discussing a change of protocol to preserve intact certain organs, which would be illegal.
One of America’s most powerful politicians, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, announced his resignation last week after years of tension within his party with the kind of conservatives that want to defund Planned Parenthood.
But Planned Parenthood strongly denounced their accusers, insisting that the only money discussed in the video was the legal compensation for transportation, administrative and other costs incurred.
“The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue,” Richards said.
Planned Parenthood operates nearly 700 health centers nationwide, providing birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
It is also the largest abortion provider in the country, making it a primary target for group’s seeking to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion throughout the country.
About 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget comes from federal funding, which is barred by law from being used on any abortions except in very limited circumstances, such as if the mother was the victim of rape.
Republicans have fought vigorously in recent months to end all federal aid to the organization, with many refusing to vote for government spending legislation that does not defund Planned Parenthood.
Richards argued that such a move would adversely affect lower-income families dependent on Planned Parenthood’s contraception programs and cancer screenings.
She said 78 percent of the group’s patients are at 150 percent of the poverty line or below.
The group is broadly backed by Democrats, but Republicans offered strong criticism during the hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“This is an organization that doesn’t need federal subsidy,” the panel’s Republican chairman Jason Chaffetz said as he denounced the group’s mismanagement and political activism.
“Do you want to attack millions of women who have a constitutional right affirmed by the Supreme Court… to make their own health care decisions with the advice of their doctors?” the committee’s top Democrat Elijah Cummings retorted.