Perhaps the first thing to know about the Wednesday hearing on Planned Parenthood is its name: the event was listed on the House Judiciary Committee website as "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider."
The notice on the committee's official Facebook page was similarly unsubtle, with a quote from chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who oversaw the hearing, declaring: "Every human life is sacred and should be protected from the atrocities allegedly undertaken by Planned Parenthood."
The hearing was called after the release of five videos, each secretly recorded and selectively edited, featuring Planned Parenthood employees discussing, often in graphic detail, the organization's participation in fetal tissue donation programs.
But despite the hearing being billed as an investigation into the organization's "abortion practices," House Republicans declined to invite Planned Parenthood to testify or answer their questions. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion organization behind the videos, was also notably absent.
Of the four witnesses that were called, three were anti-abortion activists. James Bopp Jr., general counsel at the National Right to Life, spoke in detail about the videos, testifying that it was "clear" that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue and had violated federal law.
When asked if he had seen the full, unedited videos, Bopp said that he hadn't.
"You’ve not seen the unedited videos, is that correct?" Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) asked Bopp.
"That's correct," he replied.
The two other witnesses called by the majority were Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden, self-described "abortion survivors" who provided testimony that, while deeply personal, had nothing to do the question of Planned Parenthood's medical practices, its funding, and its place in the reproductive health landscape.
After quoting Adolf Hitler, Jessen said Planned Parenthood "destroy[ed] and dismember[ed] babies." Odhen, in response to a question from a member of the committee about her views on abortion, replied: "I want abortion to be unthinkable in our country."
This was, in effect, the thesis of the hearing.
The emotional testimony continued with Republican committee members themselves. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az.) spoke about the "murder" of "unborn babies" while Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), said that the share of the budget that funds Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health provider that serves millions of low-income women (including those who are already parents), should instead be spent "feeding hungry children."
Pricilla Smith, director and senior fellow at Yale Law School's Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, Information Society Project, was the only witness called by the committee's Democrats, and the only witness who addressed the question—ostensibly another focus of the hearing—of what would happen if Planned Parenthood lost its funding.
Smith's testimony—that it would leave millions of women without access to healthcare—is supported by a study, conducted by the Guttmacher Institute at the request of the Congressional Budget Office and released this week, that found that community health clinics could not meet the reproductive health needs provided by Planned Parenthood.
"In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care," according to the report's conclusions. "And even where there are other safety-net providers, they, on average, serve far fewer contraceptive clients than do sites operated by Planned Parenthood."
The committee's questions about the legality of Planned Parenthood's conduct have also been answered by outside research and investigations. So far, five states have closed their respective investigations into the reproductive health provider without turning up any evidence of wrongdoing.
And the Democratic-led Committee on Energy and Commerce released on Wednesday the findings of its own investigation, concluding that "there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates have violated any federal or state laws" in how it secured consent from patients, how it obtained fetal tissue, or how it legally recouped expenses. (It is illegal to sell fetal tissue for profit, but it is entirely legal, under standards agreed to by a bipartisan commission, to charge for expenses related to obtaining and transporting it.)
The hearing lasted four hours, and it was only the first in what is expected to be a series. But with no new information revealed and many of its most urgent questions already answered, members of the Democratic minority questioned the point of the hearing.
Johnson, the Democrat from Georgia who questioned Bopp about his knowledge of the videos, called it a "show trial" and reminded the committee that some of its members, including Franks, have threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood's funding.
"What we have, at a crucial moment in the affairs of the nation…we are not talking about funding government operations past September 30th," he said, "we are talking about abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood instead.