OLYMPIA – Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington do not sell fetal tissue and do not perform partial-birth abortions, conservative lawmakers were told Monday.
Responding to requests from 38 state representatives and 13 state senators, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he assigned two of his attorneys to investigate their concerns about the organization after national reports of “trafficking in human body parts.” That review found no evidence to support claims that the organization sells fetal tissue or performs illegal partial-birth abortions, and Ferguson called such unfounded allegations troubling.
“They seek to discredit the organization and divert resources away from patient services, making it more difficult for Washington women to exercise their constitutional rights,” he wrote in letters to the lawmakers.
One of the leaders of the House members who called for the investigation, Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, said he was glad Ferguson acted on the request for an investigation and “it appears none of this is going on in Washington.” But he said it was the attorney general, not lawmakers, who was politicizing the issue.
“He decided to go political with it, wading into the entire abortion issue,” MacEwen said, insisting that representatives made clear in their letter it was not about abortion.
That letter said: “Regardless of personal views of legalized abortion, a civilized society cannot tolerate unethical medical practices such as the harvesting of human organs for monetary gain.”
In a memo attached to letters sent to lawmakers, the investigating attorneys said only one Planned Parenthood facility in Washington does take fetal tissue samples. It has an agreement with the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Birth Defects Research Laboratory, which uses the tissue for research into the prevention of heart damage, macular degeneration and birth defects, Ferguson said. Planned Parenthood donates the tissue, and the laboratory provides shipping materials but no reimbursement to the organization.
Women who decide to have an abortion after two visits to Planned Parenthood sign a consent form for that procedure, and only then are they asked whether they want to donate the fetal tissue. If so, they sign a second consent form, the memo says. The abortion procedure isn’t changed if the fetal tissue is to be donated – a requirement by the National Institutes of Health, which provides federal money to the laboratory.
Partial-birth abortions are illegal under state and federal law, the memo adds. “There has been no information presented to indicate that partial-birth abortions have been performed at any Planned Parenthood health center in Washington,” the attorneys said.
The lawmakers were responding to allegations that surfaced in videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. The attorneys said the center has released many videos, but all appear to be edited and none were recorded in Washington, the attorneys said. If they had, that would be illegal because state law requires consent before recording a conversation.
“None of the videos or transcripts publicized by the Center for Medical Progress contain any description of a procedure that would meet the federal definition of a partial-birth abortion,” the attorneys said.
Gov. Jay Inslee – who, like Ferguson, is a Democrat who supports abortion rights – criticized lawmakers who requested the investigation. All but one of the legislators are Republicans.
“The effort by some state legislators to baselessly discredit Planned Parenthood was part of a national effort to restrict access to legal medical services for millions of women,” Inslee said in a statement.
But MacEwen defended the request: “It was a serious enough issue for us to look into it.” He doubted anything will come up on the topic in the short 2016 legislative session, but it may surface in 2017 when the two-year state budget is written.
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