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House Panel Launches Probe of Planned Parenthood

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In this Jan. 23 photo, Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, walks in front of a Planned Parenthood facility in Tucson, Ariz. (AP)

A Republican-led House committee has launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood, requesting a mountain of documents covering everything from audits to abortion-funding records to its policies on reporting sexual abuse. 

In a move Democrats decried as "unfair and unjustified," Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., earlier this month wrote to Planned Parenthood informing them that the House Energy and Commerce Committee was looking at the group's "institutional practices and policies." 

Stearns, chairman of the committee's oversight panel, said in a statement that federal funding indirectly helps Planned Parenthood pay for abortions despite legal restrictions. Leaving no doubt about his intentions, he said that funding "should be evaluated" along with other expenses to reduce the deficit. 

"Although Planned Parenthood is barred from using federal funds to perform abortions, these funds are fungible and allow the group to use funds from other sources ostensibly for abortions," Stearns said in a statement. "Since the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America receives about $1 million a day in taxpayer funds, I sent a letter to the group's president requesting documents and information as we look at the organization's use of federal dollars and its compliance with various laws." 

Stearns also cited what he called the group's "extensive record of violating state sexual assault and child abuse reporting laws, and of encouraging young girls to lie about their ages to circumvent state reporting laws." 

The line was an apparent reference to a series of sting operations conducted by anti-abortion group Live Action. The group has released videos which appear to show, in some cases, Planned Parenthood employees offering advice to people posing as sex traffickers. 

But Planned Parenthood staunchly defended its practices and dismissed Stearns' request as a politically motivated attack -- one that follows unsuccessful Republican-led attempts in Congress to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood. 

"Planned Parenthood is a trusted nonprofit health care provider that provides professional, reliable and quality health care, including birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams and STD testing and treatment to 3 million women and men across the country," group President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "This politically motivated investigation is a continuation of the efforts of earlier this year to undermine Planned Parenthood, and more disturbingly, women's access to the primary and preventive care they need." 

In a letter sent Tuesday to Stearns, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., excoriated Stearns for his request. 

They suggested the probe was part of a "Republican vendetta" against the group and described his document request as "extraordinarily broad and burdensome." Noting that other watchdogs regularly audit Planned Parenthood, they wrote that "we are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request." 

"We are committed to strong congressional oversight," they wrote. "But we are opposed to investigations that appear to be designed to harass and shut down an organization simply because Republicans disagree with the work that it does." 

Stearns is requesting several sets of documents. He asked Planned Parenthood for internal audits for the national organization and its affiliates covering 1998-2010. He asked for documentation showing how federal funding is segregated from abortion services. He asked for policies showing how Planned Parenthood reports cases of potential sexual abuse. 

Live Action President Lila Rose applauded the move, calling the group's practices "abusive and lawless." 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, called the probe a "critical step" in holding the group accountable. 

"We strongly believe that as Congress and the American people learn more about Planned Parenthood, they will see the urgency in defunding them immediately of the hundreds of millions of tax dollars they receive every year," she said in a statement.