House Panel Continues Hearings Targeting Abortion Providers & Medical Researchers

The House Select Investigative Panel yesterday held another round of politically-motivated hearings used to attack abortion providers and medical research. The hearing, on the so-called “pricing” of fetal tissue, was premised on the highly-edited, deceptive, and now debunked videos created and released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which falsely claimed that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue.

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) condemned the Panel, led by Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). “From the outset, this investigation has not been an objective or fact-based search for the truth but a political weapon to attack women’s health care and life-saving research and harass and intimidate those who provide these services,” charged Schakowsky.

The hearing featured five Republican witnesses, none of whom had any personal knowledge or expertise on fetal tissue donation programs. Instead, the witnesses offered testimony that relied on documents provided by Congressional staff.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) questioned Chairwoman Blackburn on the origin of those documents and the data they contained. Blackburn would not disclose that information, stating only that the documents were based on the Panel’s investigative work. DeGette noted that the procurement company Stem Express, which was featured in the CMP videos, had indicated in a letter to the Panel that some of the information in the documents appear to have been illegally obtained and misrepresented the company’s practices. DeGette’s motion to exclude the documents was then tabled by a party-line vote.

According to Schakowsky, Stem Express offered to have its procurement director explain its practice to members of the Panel, but Blackburn “ignored that offer and, instead, called this public hearing and invited witnesses who have no firsthand knowledge of the facts to opine about potential criminal misconduct.”

The person who should be testifying before the Panel, according to attorney Fay Clayton, is CMP head David Daleiden.

Clayton, a witness at yesterday’s hearing, represented the Anatomical Gift Foundation (AGF) in 2000. AGF, a nonprofit corporation that provided donated tissue to medical researchers, was the target of a similar sham video operation conducted by Life Dynamics. According to Clayton, the Life Dynamics video “featured a former AGF employee – whose identity was disguised – saying he’d seen all manner of horrible and unlawful practices. Life Dynamics aggressively promoted the video to the media and elected officials… and the House health and environment subcommittee convened hearings.” As a result, “AGF was demonized and threatened with violence.” That employee was revealed to be Dean Alberti, who later testified under oath that he had been paid by Life Dynamics to make false statements in the video and then repeated those statements to the media.

Clayton, pointing to this earlier debacle, stated yesterday that the Panel’s failure to subpoena Daleiden suggests that the majority on the Panel may be “afraid” of what Daleiden would say under oath for “fear that the actual truth might come out.” Ultimately, Clayton rebuked the Panel, stating, “Unless this Select Panel is willing to put Mr. Daleiden and his associates under oath and get to the bottom of what they did, it should terminate these proceedings now and return to doing the people’s business.”

Only a few months ago, a grand jury in Houston, Texas indicted both David Daleiden and a CMP employee on federal criminal charges related to their fraudulent CMP activities. That same grand jury, convened by an anti-abortion prosecutor, found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. So far, investigations in 12 states and by three Congressional Committees have also found zero evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and eight states have refused to investigate citing a lack of evidence against the healthcare provider.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the deceptive videos, violence and threats against abortion providers have increased. Most tragically, in November, anti-abortion extremist Robert Dear opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three people and injuring nine. Upon his arrest, Dear told officers “no more baby parts,” echoing the language of the CMP videos and called himself a “warrior for the babies.” Interestingly, several witnesses and anti-abortion members of the Panel used the phrase “baby body parts” during yesterday’s hearing.

Schakowsky, together with other Democratic members of the Panel, has repeatedly called on the Panel not to ignore this escalation in violence. Blackburn, however, has failed to take precautions when issuing subpoenas to protect the identities of providers, researchers, and others who may become the targets of violence, harassment, and intimidation.

The Feminist Majority Foundation in December launched a campaign demanding that the House Select Investigative Panel either redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence, or disband. So far, Blackburn has showed no signs of deviating from the Panel’s current course. Ranking Member Schakowsky, however, told Rewire that the Democrats on the Panel plan to hold their own hearings. They also have created their own website, where they provide an investigative plan for the Panel which includes, not only how to protect patients and providers from anti-abortion extremists and violence, but also the benefits of fetal tissue research, the importance of access to reproductive health care, and improving infant lives.

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