Well, it’s almost Friday. For most people that’s a good thing. But as a Planned Parenthood staffer, tomorrow it’s a bit different. That’s because tomorrow is Good Friday and that means that over 1,000 anti-choice protesters will be demonstrating at the Highland Park Clinic in St. Paul, MN.
Well, it’s almost Friday. For most people that’s a good thing. But as a Planned Parenthood staffer, tomorrow it’s a bit different. That’s because tomorrow is Good Friday and that means that over 1,000 anti-choice protesters will be demonstrating at the Highland Park Clinic in St. Paul, MN. It’s a day of tremendous stress for our patients and staff, but thankfully there will also be over 500 pro-choicers at the clinic showing support for Planned Parenthood and the services we provide. Check out a video from last year’s Good Friday Event. If you’re in the neighborhood, there is still time to sign up to join us!
Congressional Republicans investigating widely discredited claims about fetal tissue trafficking and abortion expect to spend $1.2 million on the anti-choice crusade by the end of the year.
The figure represents the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ total estimated budget for calendar year 2016, a high-ranking GOP aide in the U.S. House of Representatives told Rewire. The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos, dubbed by Democratic legislators as a “witch hunt.”
The Committee on House Administration has tapped nearly 80 percent of the chamber’s funding reserves, approving $790,000 for the investigation, split two-thirds and one-third between Republicans and Democrats. The committee initially transferred $300,000 to the panel in 2015, which was only for that year.
Excluding the 2015 transfer, the 2016 budget shortfall totals about $710,000. Including the transfer, about $410,000.
Republicans, however, anticipate a roughly $450,000 shortfall, according to the aide, who acknowledged that they have yet to figure out how they would make up the shortfall. Details about potential funding sources could not be immediately ascertained, though the aide said Republicans would have to produce the funding no later than December 1.
Several options exist for GOP lawmakers. Republicans could earmark the money in an increasingly likely continuing resolution, which would fund the overall U.S. government in the absence of viable appropriations bills. However, that would require U.S. Senate passage—hardly a guarantee with such a controversial rider, according to a House Democratic aide.
Republicans could amend the initial resolution creating the panel and bring it back to the floor, the Democratic aide told Rewire. Resolutions only require passage by one chamber, the aide said, providing a more failsafe option.
Another possibility is for Republicans to draw from the budget of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the panel.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, denounced the investigation following the disclosure of taxpayer dollars behind it.
“Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars recycling inflammatory and thoroughly discredited allegations of anti-abortion extremists,” Schakowsky told Rewire in an email. “The Select Panel started with a lie, and has been conducted to perpetuate that lie through manufactured, misleading ‘evidence’ and suppression of facts that run contrary to the Republicans’ predetermined narrative. It would be bad enough if this were just a waste of taxpayer time and money. But this Panel is putting women’s health care and life-saving research at risk. America deserves better. Speaker Ryan can and should stop this witch hunt now.”
In a July 14 interview with Rewire, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a once outspoken proponent of fetal tissue research, didn’t know how much, if any, committee funding has gone toward the select panel’s work. Upton referred Rewire to a committee spokesperson, who did not reply to requests for comment.
Select panel Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) similarly could not answer Rewire’s funding inquiries at a July 14 press conferenceproviding an interim update on the investigation a year after the release of the first CMP videos. Blackburn deferred to Republican leadership regarding how much financial support Energy and Commerce may have provided the panel beyond the House’s reserve coffers.
A public university and abortion clinic in New Mexico are the latest targets in a congressional investigation approved by Speaker Paul Ryan and condemned by a House Democrat as "a McCarthy-like witch hunt."
The New Mexico attorney general’s office received nearly 300 pages of documents from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Thursday allegedly incriminating the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Southwestern Women’s Options, a prominent abortion clinic, in fetal tissue trafficking. Blackburn’s goal: Provoke a state-level criminal investigation into the dubious allegations.
As Blackburn prepared her latest call for outside reinforcements in the U.S. House of Representatives investigation’s thus far unsuccessful search for a market in “baby body parts,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) separately broke his silence on her tactics. Ryan said in a written letter he trusts Blackburn to conduct the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives “in a way that will focus on the facts and also protect the privacy of those involved.”
The extensive documentation sent to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) appears to replace provider and researcher names in some areas and redact them in others, honoring Blackburn’s pledge to keep such information confidential. Earlier this month, Blackburn failed to redact at least two dozen researchers’ names and contact information in publicly available documents that she sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a request for a federal abortion inquiry.
“We can confirm the Office of the Attorney General has received a public referral and this matter is under review,” attorney general spokesperson James Hallinan said in an emailed statement to Rewire. “All complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General are fully reviewed and appropriate action is taken.”
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Blackburn’s criminal referral appeared to cut other corners, copying state Rep. Steve Pearce, rather than Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who represents Albuquerque—making UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options her constituents, not his.
Grisham’s spokesperson did not return requests for comment.
Blackburn alleged in the documents that the university and abortion clinic violated state and federal law. The university “aggressively engaged in expanding abortion” and in turn, received fetal tissue from the abortion provider, she said. Last year, Rewire reported that the UNM Health Sciences Center ended its decade-long relationship with Southwestern Women’s Options because the clinic didn’t perform an adequate volume of abortions to train residents and fellows, contrary to the victory anti-choice activists claimed at the time.
The university countered that Blackburn misinterpreted the New Mexico law, which does not preclude donating fetuses from elective abortions that occurred at the clinic. “Additionally, UNM has never paid for this tissue—it has been provided free to the University of New Mexico for medical research,” according to a statement from the UNM Health Sciences Center.
“For more than 40 years, Southwestern Women’s Options has provided high-quality care for New Mexico women,” said Southwestern Women’s Options spokesperson Heather Brewer in an email to Rewire. “We are committed to continuing to provide compassionate care to women in our community.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) condemned the panel’s course of action.
“This so-called ‘criminal referral’ is further evidence that this investigation is nothing more than a wholly partisan attack on law-abiding doctors and researchers,” she told Rewire in an email.
Republican leadership, to the contrary, indicated that just cause exists for the overall investigation.
Ryan repeated several key Blackburn talking points to justify the panel’s continued work. He said documents at the panel’s April hearing on fetal tissue “pricing” indicated that some entities may have violated the federal ban on selling fetal tissue. Many of the documents, however, appear to have been dubiously sourced from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group that released widely discredited videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations. Democrats on the select panel have warned that Blackburn is relying on additional information from the anti-choice Protest ABQ, which is run by former Operation Rescue operatives.
For instance, Ryan referenced the panel’s discovery of “a website that allowed a researcher to order any baby part imaginable at a given gestation period and proceed to check out.”
“Such a practice clearly threatens the human dignity,” he said.
Ryan also countered Schakowsky’s claim that the investigation is hurting the research community, despite what researchers, fearing for their safety, privacy, and job security, told Rewire in recent interviews.
Ryan said he lacked the power to disband the panel, though he would refuse to do so regardless of the circumstances. Among the reasons he won’t act: Under the informal “Hastert rule,” named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), currently imprisoned after pleading guilty to charges related to sexually abusing minors, a majority of the majority must agree to vote on a bill. Ryan’s pledge to abide by the Hastert rule helped him win over the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, which would certainly stymie any attempt to end the investigation, along with more moderate House Republicans who almost unilaterally oppose abortion as well.
Schakowsky criticized Ryan’s response.
“I am disappointed that the Speaker has chosen to parrot Republican talking points on the investigation instead of addressing our concerns in a meaningful way,” Schakowsky said in an email to Rewire. “While there is no evidence of wrongdoing by researchers or doctors, we have concrete proof of the chilling effect on life-saving research. This McCarthy-like witch hunt is putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The Speaker has the ability to shut down this dangerous Panel and he should do so at once.”