By Megan Cassella
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior Republican lawmakers are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to review how it enforces abortion regulations following the release of a pair of videos that critics say show Planned Parenthood is involved in the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue.
The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, secretly recorded the videos. They show interviews with two officials at the non-profit reproductive health organization discussing ways to perform abortions to preserve fetal tissue for research and the costs involved. Edited excerpts have circulated widely online.
In a letter sent on Friday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, two Republican lawmakers have asked the Department of Justice to detail actions it has taken to enforce the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 law that bans late-stage abortions.
Sent by Republican representatives Bob Goodlatte and Trent Franks, the letter also asked the department to probe potential violations of the ban. They said portions of the videos "raise serious questions about whether abortionists and particularly abortionists in the Planned Parenthood organization are complying with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act."
Planned Parenthood has said it does not profit from fetal tissue donation and only receives payment for associated costs, which is legally permissible.
"These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn't matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood," Eric Ferrero, the group's vice president of communications, said in a statement.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood say the videos are the latest attack in a decades-long campaign against its mission and services. The organization focuses on family planning and pregnancy prevention, with abortions comprising 3 percent of its services, according to its website.
The Republicans' letter is a first step in what will be a larger inquiry into Planned Parenthood and enforcement of regulations like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a Judiciary Committee aide said.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also announced it will investigate the videos and whether fetal body parts were illegally sold for profit.
Nearly 130 House representatives signed a letter of support sent to both committees this week, saying they were "deeply disturbed" by the allegations.
Before the videos were released, House Republicans had already moved to eliminate about $3 million in federal funding for a family-planning program involving Planned Parenthood. The budget cut was approved by a House committee late last month and is awaiting a House vote.
(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)