Planned Parenthood a no show at State Senate hearing

The hearing began with committee Chairman Charles Schwertner announcing a key player would not be coming, Planned Parenthood.

"I think that shows in some ways their true color, it’s unfortunate they are not here to discuss this important issue,” said Chairman Schwertner (R) Georgetown.

The no show even surprised members of the committee who are supporters of Planned Parenthood.

"I think it says a lot by them not being here,” said State Senator Charles Perry (R) Lubbock.

About four hours after the hearing began, an attorney for the Gulf Coast Planned Parenthood affiliate did arrive. She declined to testify but was allowed to enter into record a letter which stated that the organization had nothing to offer. Lane Forsander and other Planned Parenthood supporters offered a harsher assessment calling the hearing a sham.

"Its total lies,” said Forsander.

The committee hearing was triggered by the recent release of several controversial videos. High ranking Planned Parenthood employees were targeted by a California based anti-abortion group. The undercover investigation featured discussions about providing tissue from aborted fetuses.

“We are not a civil court, we are not a criminal court, but we are a fact finding committee and so I think it’s only fair to everyone involved that we wait until we hear all of the facts,” said State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D) San Antonio.

Attorney General Ken Paxton testified about the Planned Parenthood investigation he launched in Texas. He told the committee he sent investigators into at least one Houston clinic and while he is disturbed by how human tissue was handled there he has yet to find any violation of law.

"I would say at this time it’s too soon for me to answer that question,” said Paxton.

Officials who manage Planned Parenthood clinics in Austin say they do not donate or sell tissue. Clinics in Houston, according to a spokesperson, have donated tissue for research but not for the past four years.

The Attorney General said the scope of his investigation will be broad and not focus just on Planned Parenthood. That prompted several committee members to urge him to include universities and hospitals that use fetal tissue as part of research in his review.

If the committee fails to verify any legal violation, procedural changes in clinics are expected. After he made a fast exit from the hearing, FOX 7 caught up with Chris Traylor, the new head of the state Health and Human Services Commission, to get an idea of what could be recommended 

“We will be looking at our regulatory construct start to finish,” said Traylor.  

There was also a call by some on the committee, like Senators Jose Rodriguez (D) El Paso and Sylvia Garcia (D) Houston, who sat in on the hearing, to determine if the producers of the controversial videos violated any law.

There's no word on when the investigations will wrap up and more hearings are expected to be held before the legislative session reconvenes in January of 2017.

Here's a link (pdf) to a letter sent to Schwertner from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice.