WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Planned Parenthood called on the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday for help managing cybersecurity, following a report that the reproductive healthcare group’s website had been hacked by anti-abortion activists.
The organization has come under scrutiny since the release of two secretly recorded videos earlier this month that critics said showed it was involved in the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue for medical research.
The Daily Dot online newspaper reported Monday that a hacking group had gained access to Planned Parenthood’s website databases and the names and email addresses of its employees.
Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens said “extremists” had launched an attack on the organization’s systems but did not say whether the hack attempt was successful.
“Extremists have broken laws, harassed our doctors and patients, produced hack videos, and now are claiming to have committed a gross invasion of privacy - one that, if true, could potentially put our staff members at risk,” she said in a statement.
The Daily Dot reported that the hackers, who called themselves “social justice warriors,” said they plan to release the organization’s internal emails soon.
The cyberattack follows weeks of debate among lawmakers in which Republicans have sought to investigate and defund the organization while Democrats have rushed to its defense. Planned Parenthood receives nearly $500 million in federal funding each year.
On Monday, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy said Congress should immediately defund the group until investigations by two House committees are complete.
“These are serious questions and regardless of where anybody stands on the issue, knowing the doubt of what’s going on here, is this a place that tax dollars should be spent?” he said at a news conference.
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul began fast-tracking legislation to eliminate the group’s federal funding, which could allow for a Senate vote as early as this week.
The videos, which were secretly recorded by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, show Planned Parenthood officials discussing ways to perform abortions to preserve fetal tissue for research and the costs involved.
Planned Parenthood says the videos are the latest attack in a decades-long campaign against it and denies doing anything illegal. The organization focuses on family planning and pregnancy prevention, with abortions comprising 3 percent of its services.
Federal law prohibits the buying or selling of fetal tissue for profit but allows for the donation of tissue for research or transplantation.
Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell and Ken Wills