AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas legislators who passed one of the nation's toughest abortion laws turned their attention to fetal tissue research Thursday, ahead of a Houston court appearance by two anti-abortion activists on charges related to their filming of undercover videos at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
The Legislature doesn't return until 2017 — meaning that by then the state will lag behind other Republican-controlled statehouses pushing new laws to ban fetal tissue sales, which is already illegal, and donations of fetal tissue. The measures follow last year's release of edited videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue for profit.
During the hearing of the House State Affairs Committee, Texas health officials denied claims that fetal tissue remains were being stored in clinic refrigerators next to Chinese take-out leftovers.
"In some cases the use of fetal tissue is the only viable approach," said Raymond Greenberg, executive vice chancellor for health affairs over the University of Texas System, defending the work of university researchers.
The makers of the videos, two anti-abortion activists from California, were indicted in January on charges that they used fake IDs to gain access to a Planned Parenthood clinic. They are expected in court Friday.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has already said he will support banning "the sale or transfer" of fetal tissue. Republican state Rep. Byron Cook scheduled Thursday's hearing a week after one of the video makers, David Robert Daleiden, rejected a plea deal from Houston prosecutors in February that would have taken the possibility of prison off the table.
A judge Friday will take up claims by Daleiden's attorney that the Republican district attorney in Houston colluded with Planned Parenthood to obtain an indictment. An attorney for Planned Parenthood has said a Houston prosecutor told him the same grand jury never even voted on possible criminal charges against the nation's largest abortion provider.
Daleiden is charged with second-degree record tampering and misdemeanor attempting to buy human organs.
Texas is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on tough abortion restrictions passed in 2013 that led to the closure of more than half the state's abortion clinics. State health officials said the remaining facilities have been in compliance while facing questions from lawmakers who raised the possibility of fetal tissue becoming contaminated.
Two opponents of fetal tissue donations were the only other witnesses called to testify. Planned Parenthood was not invited by lawmakers.
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