Wed. 10:12 p.m.: Planned Parenthood seeks fed study of fetal tissue research

WASHINGTON – Under fire for its role in providing fetal tissue for research, Planned Parenthood asked the government’s top health scientists today to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

Planned Parenthood’s request to the National Institutes of Health came as Senate Republicans pressed their fight to bar the organization from receiving federal aid. Likely opposition from at least one GOP senator highlighted the long odds the GOP will face in a Senate showdown vote expected early next week.

The group also took its websites down after a hacker attack it blamed on “anti-abortion extremists” blocked access by what Planned Parenthood said are the sites’ 200,000 daily visitors. The organization declined to say publicly how it knew the attackers were abortion foes, and said it fixed the problem but took its sites down for the day to “ensure that we are fully protected.”

Planned Parenthood, which gets more than $500 million of its $1.3 billion annual budget from federal and state programs, has been under fire since the release of videos showing some of its officials discussing how they obtain organs from aborted fetuses for research. The videos were furtively recorded by an anti-abortion group.

“The inflammatory and misleading videos have pushed this issue into the national spotlight,” said the letter from Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. “And a thoughtful, careful review by leading medical and ethical experts could do a lot to help the public and policymakers think through this issue and reach informed conclusions.”

Anti-abortion groups and many Republican lawmakers have said it is morally wrong for the group to obtain fetal organs for research, and some have accused it of selling the tissue for profit, which would be illegal.