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Congressional investigation launched into abortion practices

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday announced it's launching an investigation into abortion practices, following the release of a video from a conservative group attacking Planned Parenthood over its handling of fetal tissue.

"This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart. The committee will get to the bottom of this appalling situation," Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan; Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania' and Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pennsylvania; said in a joint statement.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also called for congressional hearings into abortion clinic practices.

"Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child," he said in a statement. "When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child - and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video - we must all act."

The video in question shows undercover anti-abortion rights activists having a lunch meeting with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services. Posing as potential buyers for a human biologics company, the activists ask Nucatola about the price for fetal tissue for research.

An edited version of the conversation, about eight minutes long, shows Nucatola saying, "I would say it's probably around $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what's involved."

The conservative group, called the Center for Medical Progress, released the full conversation, which also shows Nucatola stressing that Planned Parenthood doesn't profit from such transactions. She explains that the $30 to $100 pricetag covers costs like packaging tissue and shipping it.

"At the end of the day we just want to keep the doors open... we just really want it to be reasonable for the impact on the clinic that it has," she says a little more than an hour into the conversation. "This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at - this is a way to offer patients the services they want and do good for the medical community."

The Center for Medical Progress accuses Planned Parenthood of breaking the law by selling the fetal tissue. However, the law in question does say it exempts "reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue."

According to the American Society for Cell Biology, "scientists obtain fetal tissue for research purposes from a variety of sources including hospitals, nonprofit tissue banks (one of which is funded by the NIH), and, in some cases, abortion clinics." The group points out that fetal tissue research has been conducted since the 1930's, and human fetal kidney cells were used to develop the polio vaccine.

While there are sanctioned uses for fetal tissue research -- Nucatola specifically mentioned Parkinson's research, Alzheimer's research -- Boehner said in his statement Wednesday that he's calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell "to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."

Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said the claims that the organization is selling fetal tissue are "flat-out untrue."

"But that doesn't matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood," he said. "Women and families who make the decision to donate fetal tissue for lifesaving scientific research should be honored, not attacked and demeaned. Our medical practices and guidelines in this area are clear, and we do this important work just like other high-quality health care providers -- with full, appropriate consent from patients, under the highest ethical and legal standards, and with no financial benefit for the patient or Planned Parenthood."

Republican presidential contenders are also speaking out about the video. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has even launched a state investigation into Planned Parenthood operations. As the New Orleans Advocate points out, Planned Parenthood has two facilities in Louisiana, but neither them performs abortions.

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