Anti-abortion rally held in advance of Planned Parenthood hearing

A state Senate committee hearing will be held Wednesday into allegations that some Planned Parenthood clinics are profiting from tissue taken from aborted fetuses. In anticipation of the hearing, a rally was held Tuesday morning by an anti-abortion group.

Those gathering on the south steps of the State Capitol praised Texas lawmakers for past efforts to prevent abortion providers from having access to state funding. But Tuesday morning they called for a new crackdown on Planned Parenthood.

“We will not tolerate abortion in this state. We will not tolerate the exploitation of unborn children. We will not tolerate the exploitation of women. We will not tolerate Planned Parenthood,” said Abby Johnson, who once worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan.

The recent release of videos suggesting Planned Parenthood makes money off of aborted fetuses triggered at least two state investigations. Nichola Morrison and her husband were among those at the rally hoping this latest fight will lead to something bigger.

“I want people to say, I can’t believe we let this happen in this day and, I can’t believe we let this take place,” said Morrison.

Many of those at the rally are expected to come back Wednesday and pack into a Capitol committee room. A Senate hearing will look into Planned Parenthood’s business practices regarding fetal tissue. Chairman Charles Schwertner sent letters inviting representatives from the Gulf Coast and Greater Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates to testify. With or without them, the hearing is to determine if any state laws have been broken and if any new regulations should be enacted.

"So we want people to know what’s going on. If they are breaking the law people need to know it. If they are not breaking the law they need to know that too,” said Joe Pojman with Texas Alliance for Life.

In a statement sent earlier to FOX 7, officials with Planned Parenthood said their clinics in Austin and in the MetroPlex do not sell or donate the tissue that’s collected during the abortion process. The Houston affiliate reportedly has provided tissue in the past to a UT research program.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office confirmed to FOX 7 that investigators recently visited Planned Parenthood clinics in Houston. The agency also provided committee members with copies of a video, believed to be from Houston, but would provide no other details. The images the committee members are reviewing may be similar to those recorded by the California anti-abortion group that released the videos that sparked this new abortion fight.

While other anti-abortion rallies like the one at the Capitol took place in Houston and San Antonio, Planned Parenthood launched a new PR campaign. It included the release of a poll where 63% of those surveyed said they opposed defunding the organization.

The Gulf Coast Planned Parenthood affiliate has been the target of a state investigation before. In 2013, the state Attorney General's Office announced a $1.4 million settlement with the organization which was accused of overbilling the state's Medicaid program. A spokesperson for the group at the time denied the charge and said they agreed to the settlement in order to end a costly legal battle.