Congressional Democrats on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives excoriated the Republican-led “witch hunt” in their final report issued Monday.
The report reiterated many of the same allegations that Democrats have consistently lobbed at the U.S. House of Representatives panel and its chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), over the past year. Among the allegations extensively reported by Rewire are that Blackburn and her fellow Republicans abused their unilateral subpoena power and otherwise shut out Democrats, while undermining life-saving fetal tissue research, and endangering the privacy and safety of researchers and reproductive health-care providers.
Democrats on the panel also issued five recommendations to Congress: supporting fetal tissue research; protecting women and reproductive health-care providers from anti-abortion violence; rejecting efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and prevent Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving comparable services; passing legislation that ensures access to a full range of reproductive health care; and requiring standard operating procedures for future select investigations.
“We agreed to participate in this Panel because facts matter, and we were determined to be in the room to defend the truth,” Democrats wrote in a press release accompanying the report. “As the Panel increasingly abused congressional authority and put doctors and researchers at risk, we called on the Panel to disband but continued in our efforts to make this investigation as fair, balanced, and fact-based as possible. To that end, we are releasing this report to set the record straight for the American people.”
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The panel’s $1.59 million investigation, funded through a budgetary shell game with existing taxpayer money, is ostensibly at the finish line. Republicans are supposed to issue a final report of their own by the end of the 114th Congress. The report could come as early as this week—the last week lawmakers are expected to remain in Washington before they leave for the holidays.
But Blackburn, a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, has forged ahead in recent weeks, seemingly buoyed by anti-choice support. The radical Operation Rescue last month urged House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to extend the investigation into the 115th Congress. Doing so would require the House to vote on a new resolution reestablishing the investigation when the new Congress begins in January 2017.
As Democrats again stressed Monday, three prior Republican-led congressional committee investigations found no basis in anti-choice claims that Planned Parenthood, or any other targeted entities, profited from fetal tissue donations. Nor did 13 states and a Texas grand jury. Blackburn in June called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to investigate tissue procurement company StemExpress, two Planned Parenthood affiliates, and an Oakland, California-based abortion clinic over alleged patient privacy violations. But HHS subsequently closed the matter, Democrats said in their report, after Republicans failed to answer an agency request for more information.
Despite running into such roadblocks, Republicans continue to rely on discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos alleging an illicit market in “baby body parts.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters for America assessed the select panel’s dependence on anti-choice media, including side-by-side comparisons of Republican exhibits and CMP documents. Rewire previously analyzed what appeared to be a close working relationship between Blackburn and David Daleiden, the architect of the CMP videos.
Both Daleiden and Operation Rescue last week published blog posts boasting of as many as nine criminal referrals from the panel, including ones that Blackburn had not previously publicized, in the hours before Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), a member of the panel, spoke about the referrals on the House floor. Love mentioned eight referrals in her floor speech.
“The work of the select panel is not over,” she said. “And more referrals are to come.”