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GOP House Panel: Halt Federal Money for Planned Parenthood

Democrats said the GOP probe had unearthed no wrongdoing and wasted taxpayers' money

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    GOP House Panel: Halt Federal Money for Planned Parenthood
    A file photo for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

    A Republican-run House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the world of fetal tissue research has urged Congress to halt federal payments to the women's health organization. Democrats said the GOP probe had unearthed no wrongdoing and wasted taxpayers' money in an abusive investigation reminiscent of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. 

    The Republican recommendation was included in the special committee's final report Wednesday and was no surprise. The GOP released the 471-page document just 16 days before Donald Trump becomes president, at the start of a year in which many Republicans hope Congress will finally cut off federal funds for the group. 

    Most GOP lawmakers have long opposed Planned Parenthood because many of its clinics provide abortions. Their antagonism intensified after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes provide fetal tissue to researchers, which is legal if no profit is made. 

    "Planned Parenthood affiliates and clinics have repeatedly neglected their fiduciary duty requiring good stewardship of federal taxpayer dollars," wrote the panel, which was chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Republicans created the special committee in reaction to the videos. 

    The report accused the group of violating federal laws by altering abortion procedures to obtain fetal tissue, disclosing patients' private information to firms that procure the tissue and "a general disinterest in clinical integrity." 

    Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and did so again Wednesday. 

    "Today's Republican staff report once again demonstrates that this exercise was nothing more than a partisan attack on Planned Parenthood and women's access to safe and legal abortion," Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood's vice president for Public Policy, said in a written statement. 

    The group has long said the videos were doctored. 

    Girding for GOP assaults on its budget, Planned Parenthood is circulating a petition of support it plans to submit to Congress and has organized events in West Virginia, Washington state and Maine aimed at galvanizing backers. 

    Fetal tissue research has strong backing among scientists for its value in studying Down syndrome, eye disease and other problems. Blackburn's report said fetal tissue "makes a vanishingly small contribution to clinical and research efforts, if it contributes at all," and recommended curbing federal grants for such research. 

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    Democrats accused the panel of squandering $1.5 million in taxpayer funds with a probe that endangered the safety of people involved in abortions and fetal tissue work by providing information about them. They said it was evocative of baseless allegations about communist subversives lodged six decades ago by McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican. 

    "The select panel found no evidence of wrongdoing by health care providers, researchers or tissue procurement companies," wrote the Democrats, who were led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. 

    The panel also examined tissue procurement firms including StemExpress and research entities like the University of New Mexico. The report cited 15 instances in which the committee has provided information to U.S. and state authorities for possibly violating federal and state laws. 

    Planned Parenthood's latest annual report shows that of more than $1.1 billion in yearly revenue, around half — $554 million — comes from government grants and reimbursements. It provides no breakdown. 

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Planned Parenthood receives about $450 million annually in federal funds, mostly $390 million in reimbursements from the Medicaid program for low-income people. 

    By law, federal funds cannot be used for abortions except for a handful of rare exceptions. 

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    The report recommended legislation letting states deny Medicaid and family planning payments to groups that provide abortions. Last month, the Obama administration issued a rule preventing states from blocking family planning funds to such clinics.