Members of the House Select Investigative Panel Call on Speaker Ryan to Disband Its Witch Hunt Against Abortion Providers

Members of the House Select Investigative Panel today sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling on him to disband the Panel and end its “unjustified witch hunt against researchers and doctors.”

The letter—signed by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jerrold Naddler (D-NY), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)—was sent one day after Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) issued yet another round of subpoenas and publicly identified a specific abortion provider as being “under investigation.” According to the letter, “Republicans have not shared with Democrats any objective basis for targeting this individual, who has been the subject of anti-abortion violence for decades, including a 1991 fire that destroyed his family farm, killing his dog, cat, and seventeen horses in claimed retaliation for the care that he provides for women in this country.” Another massive fire at the abortion provider’s clinic in 2008 virtually destroyed it. Though the fire was deemed suspicious, a suspect has never been apprehended.

Democrats on the House Panel have continuously expressed concern regarding the safety of individuals or organizations subpoenaed by Chair Blackburn. Ranking Member Schakowsky has repeatedly called on Blackburn not to ignore the reality of anti-abortion violence and intimidation by needlessly requesting personally identifiable information. Blackburn, however, appears to have doubled down, issuing a press release yesterday naming a specific doctor, even as threats and violence against abortion providers has skyrocketed.

The letter also reveals that one deponent had specifically appealed to the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee—under whose authority the Panel operates—and to Speaker Ryan himself for “basic protection for individual privacy and safety.” According to the letter, however, “those requests have been refused or met with deafening silence.” As a result, “facing the threat of contempt,” that person went before the Panel and—in a style the Democrats described as “reminiscent of Senator Joe McCarthy”— endured eight hours of questioning, during which she was asked to “name names by Republican staff who refused to explain how their requests bore any relation to a legitimate investigative aim.”

In their letter to Speaker Ryan, the House Panel Democrats note that, “Almost every person contacted by the Panel has expressed fear for their safety if identified in connection with this investigation, which has repeatedly been described by the Chair and other Republicans using highly misleading and inflammatory language. These concerns are not hypothetical or exaggerated.” They continue, “One of the individuals that Chair Blackburn has targeted already received graphic death threats after being identified in David Daleiden’s inflammatory and deceptively-edited videos.”

Daleiden is the head of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress, which released a series of videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. The House Select Investigative Panel was created to investigate the claims made in the video, even though four Congressional Committees had already investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Investigations in 12 states have also found no wrongdoing on the part of the healthcare provider, and a grand jury in Houston investigating Planned Parenthood chose instead to indict Daleiden and a CMP employee on felony criminal charges related to their CMP activities.

Following the release of the CMP videos, abortion providers experienced a dramatic increase in violence, death threats, harassment, and intimidation, according to a report released by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta connected this spike directly to the CMP videos: “When abortion providers are targeted and demonized, clinic staff are threatened, facilities are set on fire, and doctors are murdered,” said Saporta.

Just last November, anti-abortion extremist Robert Dear opened fire at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood killing three and injuring nine. Dear has said that he is a “warrior for the babies” and yelled “no more baby parts” during his arrest. Several anti-abortion members of the House Panel have continued to use the rhetoric of “baby body parts,” also heard in the CMP videos, even after this horrific act of violence.

Despite this documented rise in violence, threats, and harassment, House Panel Chair Blackburn has refused to implement any procedures to protect the safety and privacy of doctors, researchers, and others.  So far, Blackburn has unilaterally issued 34 subpoenas, all without holding even an organizational meeting to discuss her investigative plan with Democrats on the Panel. Chair Blackburn has also failed to subpoena anyone involved in the CMP video scheme, including CMP head David Daleiden and founding CMP official and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

The Feminist Majority Foundation has called on the House Select Investigative Panel to immediately redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence or to disband.

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