POLITICS
07/24/2015 04:03 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2015

McConnell Voted In 1993 To Legalize Fetal Tissue Donations After Abortion

Now he's trying to defund Planned Parenthood over the practice.

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fast-tracked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood on Friday because of an undercover video of a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing the donation of fetal tissue after abortions. But McConnell was one of many Republicans who voted to lift a ban on fetal tissue donations after abortions in 1993 -- the very move that legalized Planned Parenthood's actions. 

In 1988, the Reagan administration began a moratorium on fetal tissue from elective abortions being used in scientific research. But Congress lifted that ban in 1993 when it passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which allowed research on human fetal tissue regardless of whether the tissue came from a voluntary abortion. McConnell voted for that bill, as did Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), all of whom have condemned Planned Parenthood in the past two weeks for its involvement in the practice. 

“What we saw was very, very disturbing," McConnell said of the video on Monday. "I've not been a fan of funding them in the past and that remains my position."

Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood last week. "This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart," he said in a statement announcing the investigation. "The committee will get to the bottom of this appalling situation."

The two undercover videos that prompted the congressional inquiries were produced by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. They show Planned Parenthood staffers discussing how they would preserve fetal tissue and organs during an abortion in order to donate the specimens for medical research. The staffers discuss dollar amounts -- $30 to $100 per specimen -- which Republicans in Congress have interpreted as proof that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal parts. The family planning provider said it is not profiting from the donations, but rather accepting small, legal reimbursements for the extra costs associated with transporting and preserving the tissue. 

The video initially released by CMP was heavily edited, but the full, uncut version shows Planned Parenthood's Dr. Deborah Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood affiliates do not profit from the donation of fetal parts. "Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this," she said. "They’re looking to serve their patients and just make it not impact their bottom line."

The 1993 law explicitly allows for the kind of compensation Planned Parenthood staffers discuss in the video. It says fetal tissue cannot be sold for "valuable consideration," which "does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue."

Planned Parenthood said the undercover actors who made the video also tried to offer one of its affiliates $1600 for two fetal organs in an attempt to catch the family planning provider making an illegal sale, but the affiliate declined the offer. 

But many Republicans remain unconvinced.

"In addition to the fact that these practices are morally repulsive, they also happen to be illegal," Smith said last week. "That is why the House today announced it will investigate these allegations. I believe that life is precious, and no life is more vulnerable than that of an unborn child.”

Smith spokeswoman Laura Crist told HuffPost that the lawmaker "has never voted in support of trafficking fetal body parts, which he has condemned as illegal." 

Since the videos came out, Republicans in Congress have escalated their attacks on Planned Parenthood, including the three lawmakers who voted to legalize fetal tissue donations after abortions. McConnell started the process of fast-tracking a bill to defund Planned Parenthood on Friday, which means the legislation could skip the committee process and go straight to the floor for a vote.

"These new videos have raised important questions about whether Planned Parenthood has violated that law," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.

This story has been updated with comment from the offices of Sen. McConnell and Rep. Smith.

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