WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA) - An undercover video report on Planned Parenthood providing fetal body parts for harvesting and research should shock the conscience of the country, pro-life members of Congress insisted Wednesday.
"That which is legal is not necessarily moral and ethical," Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said at a Capitol Hill press conference on July 15.
He was referring to a nine-minute video released Wednesday showing a top Planned Parenthood doctor casually discussing how clinic affiliates offer body parts of aborted babies for research, in exchange for money.
"Is this what we do as a country?" Rep. Murphy asked. "When confronted with the facts of this, we have to ask ourselves is this what we want as a nation as a practice?"
The congressman, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced an investigation into Planned Parenthood over the report. He was joined at the press conference by other pro-life members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.
The report on Planned Parenthood was released by the Center for Medical Progress, a group of citizen journalists that cover medical ethics.
This was the group's first installment of its "Human Capital" series - a three-year investigative study on Planned Parenthood and its practice of offering the organs for research.
In the video, two actors presented themselves as members of a "fetal tissue procurement company" and asked Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, how they could work with Planned Parenthood clinics to obtain body parts of aborted babies for research.
Over glasses of wine and salad, Nucatola explained in grisly detail how the clinics extract organs from aborted babies and donate them to researchers through procurement companies that act as the middle man in the transactions, receiving a "reasonable" fee from the clinics for the expenses of obtaining, preserving, and delivering the organs, which include hearts, lungs, and livers.
"(T)hey want to come to a number that doesn't look like they're making money. They want to come to a number that looks like it is a reasonable number for the effort that is allotted on their part," she said.
While the sale of human body parts is generally illegal, federal law does permit donation of fetal tissue for research purposes with the consent of the mother.
"Reasonable payments" can be made for the operation costs, such as storage, preservation, and transport of the tissue.
State laws governing the donation of organ tissue, however, vary by state.
But even if the transactions may be legal, they should be repugnant to any American, Rep. Murphy insisted.
"This is not what we do in health care practice," he said. "This is not what we do as families. This is not what we do as a nation."
Planned Parenthood has defended the practice, saying that it is not making significant or illegal profits from the process. But the group Democrats for Life has called for a congressional investigation into the matter.
The group's executive director, Kristen Day, noted Nucatola's comment that the organs requested for shipment can impact the way that the abortion is performed, to ensure that the body parts in question are not damaged.
"Why would you risk the health of a woman to...try to harvest these organs and put the woman's life or health in further danger if you weren't profiting?" she asked
"So I think there's a lot more questions that need to be answered."
The story should make everyone reconsider the legality of late-term abortion, or abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, she added.
"This reinforces that this is a human being, and maybe these late-term abortions are really not humane or good things, especially if this opens up a marketplace, like Planned Parenthood has obviously found," she said.
The gruesome practice is just further reason for the need to investigate Planned Parenthood and reconsider any laws that permit such transactions, members of Congress insisted.
"Just last week, Planned Parenthood brought a multitude of young people to Capitol Hill to legitimize its operation. Yet the organization remains a façade for terrible actions," said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, (R- Neb.) to CNA.
"Now an undercover video shows it trafficking in the remains of aborted babies. What gruesome developments will finally awaken us to the reality of this twisted organization?"
Some representatives said they had been awoken by the terrible details in the report.
"Congress is right to use its oversight," said Congresswoman Martha Roby (R- Ala.) with tears in her eyes, "to get to the bottom of this and hold this organization accountable."
"This is one of the moments where we as a nation have to ask ourselves, who are we?" she asked. "Are we really going to tolerate this kind of inhumanity? Are we going to look the other way while babies are being brutally killed and organs harvested?"
Representative Chris Smith (R, N.J.), co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, also spoke at the press conference, asserting that "Congress must - and will - investigate and put an end to these barbaric practices."
Congress also expects to investigate changes to abortion procedures for the sake of organ harvesting that may violate the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, as well as "potential violations of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban," said a spokesperson for Rep. Sean Duffy (R- Wisc.), who is chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
The congressional investigation will also complement state investigations, Duffy's office commented. Within hours of the video's release, several states have already announced their own investigations into the information revealed in the video and Planned Parenthood's actions within their borders.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will "conduct an immediate investigation of this alleged practice in addition to a separate investigation ordered by the Texas Office of the Attorney General," said Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a July 14 statement.
Louisiana too will investigate Planned Parenthood's actions, said Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also running for the Republican nomination for president. Other GOP candidates - including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson - also spoke out against the video's findings.