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GOP’s Anti-Choice ‘Witch Hunt’ Lays Foundation for New Attacks

Christine Grimaldi

The findings of an anti-choice House panel that dealt in conspiracies and misinformation could lead to more attacks on Planned Parenthood, fetal tissue research, and abortion care.

Republicans behind a $1.59 million congressional anti-choice “witch hunt” told Rewire late Thursday that they will not revive their investigation in the new 115th Congress, but indicated that coming attacks on Planned Parenthood, fetal tissue research, and abortion care could stem from their findings.

“We had a one-year window to do our job, and we did our job, so we’re done,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the defunct, so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said in an interview off the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The end of the road could disappoint the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which has called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to reestablish the panel in 2017. In a Thursday email, Operation Rescue praised Blackburn’s 471-page final report—largely a regurgitation of discredited Center for Medical Progress videos allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations, along with a host of criminal and regulatory referrals in part targeting Planned Parenthood affiliates.

But Blackburn gave Operation Rescue something else to look forward to this year: pursuing the report’s recommendations, among them defunding Planned Parenthood and enacting an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban.

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“Our job was to find the information, do any referrals needed, and make recommendations, and then we’ll leave it to the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said.

By “authorizing committees,” Blackburn clarified that she meant two existing standing committees—Energy and Commerce; and Judiciary.

Energy and Commerce had jurisdiction over the select panel in the 114th Congress. Then-Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), a once outspoken proponent of fetal tissue research, distanced himself from the investigation. As of the start of the 115th Congress, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) now chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who led the House GOP’s failed push to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, helms Judiciary.

Blackburn said discussions will occur with the committees but did not specify what legislative paths the committees could pursue.

“It will be how they choose to handle it,” she said.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), a panel alum, said she spoke with Blackburn Thursday about the report’s recommendations.

“There are discussions taking place about how that would proceed moving forward,” Hartzler said in an interview. “No decisions have been made yet, but I think there’s a commitment to seeing that the recommendations are followed through with in some capacity.”

Hartzler said Republicans are “looking for opportunities to address the concerns that were revealed through this investigation.” House GOP leadership provided an opening Thursday when Ryan pledged to couple defunding Planned Parenthood with the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.

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