Politics Reproductive Rights

House Democrats Denounce Rep Blackburn’s Unilateral Use of Subpoenas Targeting Healthcare Providers

The six Democratic Members of the House Select Investigative Panel sent a letter to Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Friday objecting to the Chair’s “abusive and unjustifiable” use of her subpoena authority – done over the objection of Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and without a vote – to force healthcare providers and others to disclose the names of doctors, medical students, and clinic personnel.

In their letter, the Democratic Members of the Panel explain that they have “repeatedly” asked Blackburn “not to seek this type of personally identifiable information and to put in place clear rules that would govern the Panel’s handling of any sensitive information that it receives.” According to Schakowsky, Blackburn’s subpoenas, and the Panel’s lack of safeguards for sensitive information, is “dangerous and could put people’s lives at risk.”

Indeed, the letter references the shooting at an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs last November by an anti-abortion extremist that resulted in the death of three people, as well as the December 2015 indictment of another extremist who offered cash in exchange for the death of a healthcare provider. “It is appalling that, in this atmosphere, you have elected to use your unilateral subpoena authority in a manner that may increase the risk for healthcare providers, clinic personnel, medical students, and researchers,” the Members wrote.

Despite these safety concerns, Blackburn issued three subpoenas on Tuesday to Stem Express, the University of New Mexico, and Southwestern Women’s Options. These subpoenas are just the latest in the Panel’s broad investigation that has already resulted in document requests to more than 30 organizations, including abortion providers and research institutions.

The House Panel was created in the aftermath of highly-edited, deceptive videos created and released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos falsely accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue. To date, federal and state-level investigations in 12 states have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, and eight states have refused to investigate citing a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing. CMP’s  malicious videos have been debunked repeatedly, and CMP leader David Daleiden and a CMP employee were themselves recently indicted on felony criminal charges related to their fraudulent activities.

After months of relative silence, the Panel’s first hearing is scheduled for early March. The Panel has, so far, not been willing to investigate CMP leaders or other anti-abortion extremists. With attacks on abortion providers rising, the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign calling on the Select Investigative Panel to redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence, intimidation, and harassment, or to disband.

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