Politics Reproductive Rights

House Select Panel Investigating Abortion Providers Comes to an End

This week the House Select Panel investigating abortion providers finally came to a close after over a year of waging a “McCarthyesque witch hunt,” abusing Congressional authority and subpoena power to intimidate, threaten and endanger the lives of abortion providers and fetal-tissue research professionals.

Republicans on the Panel released their final report Tuesday, which was written in secret without any input from the Panel’s Democrats. The report recommends instituting a federal 20-week abortion ban, defunding Planned Parenthood, withholding funding from the National Institutes of Health until they restrict fetal tissue research, and creating an office in the Department of Justice to enforce the so-called Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

In a statement about the final report, Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky remarked, “History will not look kindly upon this Panel. Panel Republicans spent nearly $1.6 million taxpayer dollars chasing inflammatory lies being peddled by anti-abortion extremists. Their inappropriate working relationship with these groups put law-abiding doctors and researchers at risk.”

Schakowsky continued, “This Select Investigative Panel leaves behind a legacy of lies, intimidation, and procedural misconduct. It will be remembered, like the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthy hearings, for its excesses and abuses of power.”

The House Select Panel was formed to investigate the fraudulent allegations made in the now widely discredited video series released by the so-called Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. Despite 13 state and 3 Congressional investigations finding no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, the Panel refused to disband. Both the video series and the subsequent investigation led to a dramatic increase in threats and violence towards abortion providers, including the 2015 shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that killed three people and injured nine.

Companies and individuals both targeted and not targeted by the videos found themselves the focus of invasive and dangerous Congressional subpoenas demanding names of employees involved with handling fetal tissue, putting their lives at risk. Some of those forced to testify before the Panel were compared to Nazi war criminals, and some now require 24-hour personal security. Multiple clinics and tissue procurement agencies stopped facilitating fetal tissue donations because of the threats inspired by CMP and the Panel investigation.

A small biotech company called StemExpress, was recommended by Panel Republicans to be held in criminal contempt of Congress for requesting not to hand over the names of all of their employees involved in fetal tissue procurement after the CEO began receiving death threats at the start of the investigation. In April, a Washington man pled guilty in federal court to threatening the lives of StemExpress employees and encouraging others to kill them.

After Dr. Warren Hern, a Colorado physician, was needlessly subpoenaed by the Panel, he released a scathing letter denouncing Chair Marsha Blackburn’s attempt to force him to release his patients’ records, writing, “As part of this sham ‘investigation,’ your letter to me and letters to other physicians constitute a program of target identification for anti-abortion assassins….Your investigation is legislative harassment that endangers our lives. The blood of any of us who are assassinated is on your hands.”

Planned Parenthood is currently moving forward with a federal racketeering lawsuit against CMP, alleging that in 2012 David Daleiden and his associates infiltrated the medical research and reproductive healthcare community with malicious intent. In the process, CMP allegedly violated a number of state and federal laws including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act and the Federal Wiretap Act. There continue to be serious questions surrounding who was funding the organization and who was receiving reports on their progress.

The Feminist Majority Foundation was engaged in a yearlong campaign calling on the Panel to either redirect its focus to investigating violence against abortion providers or disband.

Media Resources: Slate 1/4/17; House Office of Jan Schakowsky 1/3/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 9/22/16, 12/7/16; 11/17/16, 10/4/16.

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