Over 180 members of the House called on Speaker Paul Ryan this week to disband the House Select Investigative Panel, citing “continued abuses which jeopardize the integrity of the House and the safety of Americans.”
In a letter to the Speaker sent on Tuesday, members of the House condemned Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) for abusing her unilateral subpoena power to intimidate both health care providers and scientific researchers, and appealed to Speaker Ryan “put an end to this witch hunt.”
“You cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the serious risks presented by the Panel and still claim to fulfill your responsibilities as Speaker,” they wrote. “We implore you not to stand idly by while tax dollars are spent on a baseless investigation that endangers women, scientists, health providers and others involved in women’s health care and biomedical research.”
Republicans formed the Select Investigative Panel in response to heavily-edited, deceptive videos, which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. The claims in the videos—which were created and released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP)—have been thoroughly debunked. Investigations in 12 states and by three House Congressional Committees have found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. In fact, a grand jury in Houston, Texas investigating the healthcare provider, not only cleared the organization of wrongdoing, but instead chose to indict CMP leader David Daleiden and a CMP employee Sandra Merritt on felony criminal charges related to their CMP activities.
Yet, the Select Panel has not called Daleiden or any other CMP leaders, such as Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, who was a CMP founding director, to testify under oath about their activities.
Without any credible evidence to suggest that abortion providers are, in fact, violating any federal laws, Chair Blackburn has persisted in issuing subpoenas to doctors, clinics, researchers, and others, in what Members described in their letter as “a virtually unprecedented abuse of Congressional power, perhaps only matched by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.”
But as Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) noted at a Panel hearing in April, while McCarthy endangered people’s jobs, the Panel is endangering people’s lives.
In an earlier letter to Speaker Ryan sent by the Democrats on the Panel, they explained, “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.”
Blackburn, however, has failed to take precautions to protect the identities of providers, researchers, and others who may become the targets of violence, harassment, and intimidation. Instead, under her leadership, the Panel publicly identified as “under investigation,” an abortion provider, who has already been the target of violence and threats, potentially putting the doctor, his staff, and patients at risk.
Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has repeatedly called on Blackburn not to ignore the reality of anti-abortion violence and intimidation by needlessly requesting personally identifiable information. Threats and violence against abortion providers have skyrocketed since the release of the CMP videos. Only six months ago, Robert Dear, a self-proclaimed “warrior for the babies,” opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring nine others. Upon his arrest, he shouted “no more baby parts,” echoing both the language of the CMP videos and some members of the House Panel.
Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President Eleanor Smeal says that the Panel should stop its baseless investigation, which advocates worry is endangering health-care providers, and instead redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence, threats, and intimidation. “By promoting the agenda of the discredited Center for Medical Progress’ smear campaign against abortion providers, the Select Panel is fostering a hostile and dangerous environment that further emboldens those who target, harass, and terrorize abortion providers,” said Smeal.
Although threats and violence spiked after the release of the CMP videos, the 2014 FMF National Clinic Violence Survey demonstrates that the escalation came in the midst of a larger pattern of increasing threats and intimidation. In particular, FMF research shows the percentage of clinics in the U.S. impacted by targeted threats and intimidation nearly doubled over four years, from 26.6 percent of clinics in 2010 to 51.9 percent in 2014.
Abortion providers, however, are not the only ones who have expressed concern for their safety. Researchers are also increasingly worried given the Panel’s actions. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), for example, sent Blackburn and Schakowsky a letter expressing concern for the safety of its members and others who were subpoenaed.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Panel, some medical research efforts using fetal tissue have been canceled. Fetal tissue research is being used to find cures for spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that affect millions of Americans, and has the potential to help combat the Zika virus.
Yesterday, Ranking Member Schakowsky took to the House floor to decry the Panel, offering the Top 10 Abuses of the Select Panel:
- The Select Panel is a Waste of Taxpayer Money
- The Select Panel is an Attack on Women’s Rights
- The Select Panel is Harming Scientific Research
- The Select Panel is Just Partisan Politics
- The Select Panel is a McCarthy-Like Witch Hunt
- The Select Panel Threatens Innocent Lives
- The Select Panel is Dangerous
- The Select Panel is an Abuse of Power
- The Select Panel Excludes Democrats
- The Select Panel Bullies Witnesses They Don’t Like
The Democrats on the Panel have also created a website where they outline a new investigative plan that includes hearings on the benefits of fetal tissue research, access to reproductive healthcare, improving infant lives, and protecting patients and providers from violence and anti-abortion extremism. Members of the public are also invited to share their stories about what access to reproductive healthcare and fetal tissue research means to them.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the House Select Investigative Panel to either redirect its focus to violence against abortion providers or disband.