The XX Factor

The Anti-Planned Parenthood House Panel Must Go, Say 98 Members of Congress

Marsha Blackburn uses a sonogram rendering of her grandson to make a point about abortion during a Senate hearing on July 15, 2014.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s been seven months since House Republicans established the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, and it still hasn’t uncovered a single instance of what it claimed Planned Parenthood was doing: selling baby parts. In a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and panel head Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Thursday, 98 members of Congress accused the panel of “[endangering] health-care providers and patients” and demanded its members give up their futile, politically motivated mission.

The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), denounced the panel’s misinformed preoccupation with Planned Parenthood—which “broke no laws and did nothing wrong”—and expressed concern over the panel’s recent targeting of scientists who study fetal tissue. “As members of Congress who understand the importance of medical research and on behalf of the millions of Americans who are waiting for the cures to Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and the many other diseases awaiting a cure, we feel compelled to condemn these dangerous tactics,” the letter reads.

Lofgren argues that the panel is contributing to strain of anti-abortion extremism that quashes necessary medical research and women’s health care through political pressure and a rising tide of violence against abortion providers. “This is reckless,” she said in a release. “Using the subpoena powers of the United States Congress to intimidate and potentially endanger scientists, including medical and graduate students, is not only a tremendous misuse of resources, it’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Calls for the House panel’s dissolution have been building for some time. In January, the Feminist Majority Foundation, Rep. Donna Edwards, the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan D.C. suggested that if the panel didn’t disband, it should shift its focus to the disturbing trend of harassment and deadly violence at abortion clinics. If a theory about baby parts advanced by an anti-choice activist with some video-editing software warranted an entire taxpayer-funded investigation, certainly an escalating brand of domestic terrorism should merit the same.

The panel has struggled to justify its existence from the start, stumbling through conspiracy theory upon debunked myth upon weird tangent about executive compensation. But at this point, Congress has more tangible reason to believe that David Daleiden, the producer of the “baby parts” video that started this whole mess, is trading in fetuses than it does Planned Parenthood. When Texas’ vehemently anti-choice lieutenant governor tasked a grand jury with investigating Planned Parenthood last year, the jury ended up indicting Daleiden and his co-instigator instead. Included on Daleiden’s list of charges: a violation of the ban of buying and selling human organs. Daleiden is also facing legal trouble in his home state of California, where he filmed his undercover videos with cameras hidden on his person; in California, it’s illegal to record a conversation unless both parties consent or the recorder is plainly visible.

Even though Daleiden’s video spurred the panel’s creation, the members never asked Daleiden or his cohort to explain their tactics or testify to their findings. Blackburn and company took Daleiden’s outlandish claims for granted and used his manipulated footage—some of which was allegedly obtained through unlawful means—to advance a one-sided battle against one of the country’s largest providers of women’s health care. The Texas grand jury, on the other hand, saw evidence from both sides of the issues Daleiden raised and found reason to discredit him.

“This witch hunt, led by Chairman Blackburn and Speaker Ryan, is arguably worse than McCarthyism,” said Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy, in a statement. If Ryan and Blackburn don’t want to go down in history as partisan weaklings easily manipulated by a sketchy activist’s videotape, they should shut down the panel before its anti-science muttering gets any louder.