The XX Factor

The Anti–Planned Parenthood Congressional Panel Has Finally Disbanded

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, chair of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016.

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The $1.59 million, 15 month–long congressional investigation into an imagined black market for fetal tissue has finally come to a close with a final report issued on Tuesday.

The so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was established in October 2015 in response to a series of sting videos made by an anti-abortion group, which falsely claimed the tapes showed abortion care providers “selling” fetal tissue garnered through medical procedures. After a few different congressional committees failed to find Planned Parenthood responsible for any wrongdoing, GOP members formed the select panel to widen the search for incriminating evidence.

Though the panel found no evidence that abortion providers profit from fetal tissue donated to medical facilities for research, the congressional panel continued to smear Planned Parenthood, trumpet misinformation about abortion care, and expose individual doctors and scientists to targeted harassment for more than a year. In December, with the deadline of the panel (the end of the session of Congress) drawing near, the panel made several referrals to various attorneys general, recommending further investigations into Planned Parenthood, other abortion providers, and biomedical research companies.

Democrats and reproductive-rights advocates have been pushing for an end to the panel for more than a year, almost since its inception. Last January, several organizations called for the panel to shift its focus from fetal tissue to domestic terrorism in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and the most violent year abortion providers had ever seen. And in May 2016, 98 members of Congress signed a letter accusing the panel of endangering health-care providers and patients by promoting a radical anti-abortion perspective that encourages violence and that has a chilling effect on necessary medical research. Neither of those efforts succeeded in shutting down the panel.

Before reproductive rights advocates dance on the panel’s just-finished grave, they might consider flipping through the 485-page final report, which lays out House Republicans’ plans for continuing their attack on reproductive health care in the 115th Congress. They propose passing a federal (and unconstitutional) 20-week abortion ban and creating a new office under the Department of Justice to enforce the absurd, straw-man “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.” They suggest withholding appropriations from the National Institutes of Health unless it abides by restrictive demands around using fetal tissue for lifesaving research.

The panel also recommends defunding Planned Parenthood, which Donald Trump has promised to do once he’s sworn in as president. But Trump voters seem friendlier to Planned Parenthood than the president-elect and the Republican lawmakers who ran the panel’s protracted witch-hunt. In a pre-election poll, 48 percent of intended Trump voters (a slim plurality) said they supported continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Forty-seven percent said they did not. In post-election focus groups, some Trump voters said that if Trump worked to defund Planned Parenthood, it would be a “dealbreaker” for their continued support of the president-elect. Planned Parenthood is banking on convincing Trump, devoted slave to public approval, of just how unpopular that move would be.

The select investigative panel’s ranking minority member, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, said in a statement issued Tuesday that “history will not look kindly upon this panel. … It will be remembered, like the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthy hearings for its excesses and abuses of power.” Or, if Trump and the GOP succeed in their planned attempt to gut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, history will record the panel as a wildly effective propaganda machine.