The Austin Chronicle

How Much Does a Witch Hunt Cost?

The state has spent tens of thousands investigating Planned Parenthood

By Mary Tuma, June 3, 2016, News

In the wake of undercover video recorded by an extremist anti-choice group that purported to show the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, state officials last year launched two investigations into the reproductive health provider's business practices, one led by Attorney General Ken Paxton and the other by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Planned Parenthood offices were raided, and subpoenas were thrust upon employees to hand over hundreds of medical documents while health officials threatened to cut PP patients from Medicaid.

The video debacle hit a point of vindication for the health provider earlier this year when, after two months of review, a Harris County grand jury chose not to indict Planned Par­ent­hood Gulf Coast on allegations of unlawful misconduct, and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists with the Center for Med­ic­al Progress, who were involved in making the allegations.

Case closed, right? Not so much. "Nothing about [the] announcement in Harris County impacts the state's ongoing investigation," wrote Gov. Greg Abbott following the grand jury decision. "The state of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue."

Despite zero evidence of criminal activity and the fact that the videos were deceptive, highly edited, and widely debunked, Repub­lic­an state officials turned a blind eye to the facts and continued their witch hunt. That means considerable time, money, and resources – which could be spent on combating actual fraud and abuse against the state's vulnerable – have been diverted to conduct an inquiry into hollow allegations. How much time and money? The Attorney General's Office has expended nearly 500 hours on the investigation, costing the state $47,624, according to an open records request filed by the Chronicle. (A reminder: This is the same office, now under a different attorney general, that paid an anti-abortion wordsmith more than $42,000 to doctor court testimony in support of anti-choice laws.)

"I feel like in a state where a million children live in poverty and the highest number of residents are uninsured, even spending $500 on investigating these baseless claims purely for political ploys is shameful – it's a misuse of the public's trust," said Heather Busby, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director. "This coupled with Paxton's potty policing is making us a national embarrassment."

It's difficult not to imagine the funds going toward solving several of the state's actual deep, systemic problems, including repairing the broken foster care system, failing infrastructure, the mental health care funding crisis, and tainted water. "That's 500 hours the state could have helped abused foster kids in their custody," said Blake Rocap, local attorney and reproductive health policy advisor with the ACLU of Texas. "That's their responsibility, too."

Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.