Politics

House Select Investigative Panel Issues New Subpoenas Despite Ongoing Safety Concerns

In a move that has been heavily criticized by scientists, doctors, and advocates, the House Select Investigative Panel – formed to investigate abortion providers – issued 12 new subpoenas last week to force healthcare providers, universities, and others to disclose the names of doctors, medical students, researchers, staff, and administrators.

Democrats on the Panel have blasted Chair Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) abusive use of subpoena authority, charging that the requests are not only overly-broad, but that they also ignore the reality of anti-abortion violence and intimidation by needlessly requesting personally identifiable information. Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has also slammed the Panel itself as having no basis for its investigation.

“Once again, Chair Blackburn is using congressional authority to pursue baseless, inflammatory claims generated by anti-abortion extremists,” said Schakowsky. “Not one of the entities contacted by the Panel has expressed concern about ‘letting all the facts come out.’ Their – and the Democrats’ – concern is the safety of their researchers, students, doctors, and clinic personnel.  Chair Blackburn has refused to explain why she needs a database of names. It is time for this witch hunt to come to an end.”

On Wednesday, Blackburn issued twelve subpoenas to the Biomedical Research Institute of America, Ganogen, Inc., Stem Express, individuals connected to the University of New Mexico, and BioMed IRB. Blackburn claims that previous subpoenas—including those to Stem Express and the University of New Mexico—have been ignored or been answered with heavily redacted documents.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) last week sent Chair Blackburn and Ranking Member Schakowsky a letter expressing concern for the safety of its members and others who were subpoenaed.

“Many scientists and physicians are deeply concerned for their safety and that of their patients, colleagues, and students in light of inflammatory statements and reports surrounding fetal tissue donation,” the organizations wrote. “We are troubled that this information is being sought without any rules or process in place to govern how the Panel will use and protect personally identifiable and other sensitive information.” The organizations also noted that “initial requests [for information] failed to articulate why information that identified individuals was being requested and how the Panel intended to use this information.”

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), which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. CMP’s malicious videos have been debunked repeatedly and numerous investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, CMP leader David Daleiden and a CMP employee were recently indicted on felony criminal charges related to their fraudulent activities.

Since the release of the videos, threats and violence directed at abortion providers has escalated. In November, anti-abortion extremist Robert Lewis Dear shot and killed three people and injured nine others at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. According to media reports, after his arrest, Dear told law enforcement, “no more baby parts.” Then in December, another anti-abortion extremist was indicted for threatening to kill an executive of the biotech firm that had been featured in the videos.

The CMP videos also appear to have had “a chilling effect on science,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. In a recent report, “Fetal Tissue Research: A Weapon and a Casualty in the War against Abortion,” Heather Boonstra explains that some scientists have been afraid to speak out against the political attacks on fetal tissue research. “They have seen how abortion providers have been targeted, and now they too fear for their personal safety,” she writes.

So far, the House Select Investigative Panel has not been willing to investigate CMP leaders or other anti-abortion extremists. In the wake of increasing violence and threats against abortion clinics nationwide, the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign late last year calling on the House Panel to redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence, intimidation, and harassment, or to disband.