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GOP’s Planned Parenthood ‘Witch Hunt’ Ends With New Anti-Choice Threats

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her GOP colleagues indicated that they could wield the appropriations process against the National Institutes of Health to end the use of fetal tissue procured from abortion care for research purposes.

A highly partisan, $1.59 million congressional investigation into a fictitious market for “baby body parts” came to an end Tuesday as Republicans on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released their final report.

But Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her colleagues on the U.S. House of Representatives panel indicated new anti-choice action items they could pursue in the 115th Congress among their 471 pages of regurgitated claims about Planned Parenthood, fetal tissue research, and abortion care rooted in the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) smear campaign.

The panel’s Republicans called for “enacting a law to protect unborn infants after 20 weeks gestation”—in other words, an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban. They sought to defund Planned Parenthood and give states “greater flexibility” to defund family planning services writ large, effectively thwarting the Obama administration’s recently finalized Title X rule. Such measures are already in the running for the coming congressional onslaught against reproductive justice, though such efforts will face marked Democratic resistance.

Additional anti-choice recommendations amounted to a wish list that may be more difficult to achieve, even under GOP control in the legislative and executive branches. Provisions such as creating an office within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure enforcement of the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, and other anti-choice measures would presumably require new spending, whereas restrictions like a 20-week ban presumably wouldn’t.

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Still, panel Republicans floated the proposal for the nation’s top law enforcement agency right before their counterparts in the U.S. Senate consider President-elect Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)—the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue’s top pick for the job.

What, if any, legislative paths forward for the recommendations remain unclear. A press inquiry to Blackburn’s panel spokesperson, Mike Reynard, returned only an automated message that he was no longer reachable via email “due to the conclusion of the Select Investigative Panel’s work. Republicans had until the end of the 114th Congress to issue their final report, per the resolution establishing the panel. The report was dated December 30 ahead of that deadline but wasn’t released until the 115th Congress convened January 3.

Reynard’s message directed media inquiries to Blackburn’s personal office, which could not immediately provide comment.

Blackburn and her colleagues indicated that they could wield the appropriations process against the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research agency, to end the use of fetal tissue procured from abortion care for research purposes.

They used other parts of the report to downplay the role of fetal tissue in “life-saving research,” despite historical bipartisan support.

The report detailed the full breadth of the panel’s 15 criminal and regulatory referrals against Planned Parenthood affiliates, abortion care providers, and other targeted entities, which the panel initially revealed in a December 21 news release after lawmakers had left Washington for the holidays. Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), a member of the panel, in early December indicated the existence of more referrals than the panel had previously disclosed.

Among the referrals, panel Republicans failed to redact the name of Dr. Douglas Karpen, a Houston-based provider of later abortion care, from the title of their letter to the state’s attorney general. They also recommended that the DOJ investigate Karpen.

As of 2013, Karpen had been twice investigated and twice cleared of any wrongdoing. Operation Rescue, which launched a campaign against Karpen in 2013, boasted about the new referrals in a press release despite panel Republicans’ professed obligation to redact all names. In another email, Operation Rescue named Blackburn its “2016 Pro-Life Person of the Year,” in part for going after Karpen.

The group previously called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to extend the anti-choice investigation into the 115th Congress through a resolution reestablishing the panel.

Operation Rescue’s missives echoed the apparently close working relationship between Blackburn and David Daleiden, the architect of the debunked CMP videos. The report opened by touting Daleiden as an investigative journalist, which he is not.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking minority member, blasted “Republicans’ secret and flawed final report” in excoriating language echoing Democrats’ report last month.

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

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