Republicans tried again Monday to force another state agency to look into allegations that Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains sold fetal tissue, a federal felony offense. But those efforts to attack the health provider, like every other anti-abortion measure pushed this legislative session, were shot down by the Democratic-controlled state House.
Rep. Kim Ransom, a Littleton Republican, tried to persuade the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Monday to put those investigations into the hands of the state’s Attorney General.
And if Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s absence from the hearing is any indication, she doesn’t want her office to have that authority. The Attorney General isn’t shy of the state Capitol. A representative of Coffman was front and center when a House committee reviewed a bill that would have removed the Attorney General’s office as the legal representative of the Independent Ethics Commission.
The fetal-tissue-sales issue dates back to last year, when David Daleiden of the California-based Center for Medical Progress videotaped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. Those videos, which were later found to be edited to mislead viewers, alleged Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissues that came from abortions performed at the organization’s clinics.
Daleiden and an associate have since been indicted in Texas on several felony charges related to the videos.
Members of the Republican Study Committee, an informal group that includes some of the General Assembly’s most conservative members, tried but failed last year to persuade both the Attorney General and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to investigate whether Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains had engaged in fetal tissue sales for profit.
Both Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Dr. Larry Wolk, head of the public health department, declined those requests.
So Ransom, a member of the Republican Study Committee, tried to force those investigations by transferring the authority to conduct them to the Attorney General.
Given that the bill went to the House “kill” committee, State Affairs, the vote to kill the bill along a 5-4 party line vote was not unexpected.
Ransom wasted no time in citing the Center for Medical Progress videos as evidence that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue. In preparation for the hearing, Ransom sent copies of the videos to the committee members last week, including one that she said was filmed at a Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains clinic in Denver a year ago.
Colorado and federal laws may have been broken, Ransom said.
And the department of public health has an apparent conflict of interest, Ransom said, although she stumbled through an explanation about the nature of that conflict.
Without an investigation, she claimed, she just couldn’t be certain.
Rep. Max Tyler, a Lakewood Democrat, asked Ransom to talk about the Texas investigation into Planned Parenthood, which resulted in the felony indictment against Daleiden. Tyler also asked if there had been even one investigation that found Planned Parenthood had broken the law. Ransom said she hadn’t followed the other states’ investigations.
There have been at least 12 state investigations into the videos, and numerous congressional investigations by the Republican-majority U.S. House. Not one has found any evidence of illegal activity. Another eight states have declined to investigate, including Colorado.
Barry Arrington, a religious-right attorney, showed the committee a contract he said showed Colorado State University bought fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood for $1,500 with tax-payer’s dollars. The university also bought fetal tissue from another organization, Arrington said.
“Do we know for sure the law was broken? No.” But an investigation would shed light on that, he said.
Arrington is suing Planned Parenthood, Colorado State University and Advanced Biosciences Resources in Larimer County District Court over the allegations in the Center for Medical Progress videos.
Attorney Mike Norton, who represents a number of groups including the conservative religious organization Alliance Defending Freedom, told the committee that the department of public health is pro-abortion, although he did not cite any evidence to support his claim.
Norton also said Gov. John Hickenlooper is a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood and was stymying efforts to investigate the organization.
That drew scorn from committee Chair Rep. Su Ryden, an Aurora Democrat, who said Norton was accusing Hickenlooper of covering up a crime.
Norton responded that Hickenlooper’s obstruction is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
Gena Ozols of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado said the bill “demonizes abortion providers” over a nonexistent fetal tissue program and is nothing less than “a politically-motivated witch hunt based on falsified and heavily edited videos from last summer…Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong…There is no valid reason for this bill.”
No one from Planned Parenthood testified on the bill. But in a statement after the hearing, Sarah Taylor-Nanista, VP of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, called the bill political theater “inspired by a scandal that didn’t exist.”
“It’s time for the political zealots to stop their crusade against Planned Parenthood,” Taylor-Nanista said, adding that the bill would have hindered medical research, and that its defeat shows that Coloradans don’t want the General Assembly to play politics with scientific research.
Committee chair Ryden summed up her thoughts on the measure: “This bill has given witch hunt a whole new definition.”
Photo: Attorney General’s Office