Today, the Republican members of Congress’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released an interim update to House leadership and held a press conference to update the media on its investigation of abortion providers and medical researchers across the country.
In the interim update, the select panel alleged that its investigation had revealed potential violations of federal law by abortion providers and tissue procurement companies. At the press briefing, select panel Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said the mid-year report’s findings included “documentation that shows abortion clinics and middlemen who are exploiting women and selling baby body parts as part of business plan to make more money.”
In reality, these allegations are actually recycled misinformation from anti-choice groups that right-wing media have spent the better part of the past year attempting to misrepresent as truth. With this latest release, the select panel Republicans have confirmed the long-held suspicion that they are also merely carrying water for the unfounded allegations of anti-choice extremists.
Since the select panel’s inception, the media have criticized its actions as a politically motivated “witch hunt” -- a “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood. In its 10 months of operation, the select panel has found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting one publication to call its efforts “a wild goose chase” and numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Instead, the select panel has continued to function merely as a conduit through which anti-choice groups have consistently funneled information in order to give their otherwise baseless attacks a thin veneer of legitimacy.
As the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), explained, Blackburn and her colleagues have long been suspected of “relying on information from anti-abortion extremists” in order to substantiate their otherwise unfounded attacks. Media Matters has previously reported that numerous documents from the select panel’s submitted evidence could be sourced to the website of the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP.) The panel’s interim update confirms this pattern -- including citations from numerous anti-choice groups such as CMP, Life News, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, and the Radiance Foundation.
The select panel was formed in October 2015, several months after CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood. Although these videos purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illicit sale of donated fetal tissue, they have been repeatedly discredited and multiple states investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.
Today marks exactly one year since CMP began its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.
Since then, CMP has earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year, been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Houston, TX, been subject to lawsuits, and had its work soundly rejected by multiple judges and journalists alike. Undeterred, CMP founder David Daleiden has openly voiced his lack of concern about the severity of these charges:
In contrast, for the abortion providers and researchers targeted by CMP and the select panel, the past year has been marked by increased harassment, threats, and violence.
According to the National Abortion Federation, in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers -- likely inspired by CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. Since the release of CMP’s first video in July 2015, at least five Planned Parenthood facilities have been attacked. In September 2015, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This prediction was borne out tragically in November 2015 when suspected shooter Robert Dear killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood health care center.
Nevertheless, the select panel has recklessly issued countless subpoenas demanding the names not only of abortion providers, but also of the “researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians and administrative personnel” who may have participated in fetal tissue research.
Right-wing media have also spent the past year giving CMP a platform and capitalizing on the opportunity to push misinformation about Planned Parenthood and agitate for the organization to be defunded. In a recent study, Media Matters found that during a 14-month period from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News’ evening news programs routinely relied on extreme anti-choice figures and information to help propagate CMP’s false allegations against Planned Parenthood.
For example, in a single day Fox News devoted 10 segments to hyping CMP’s videos and false claims about Planned Parenthood. Similarly, Fox host Bill O'Reilly called for an FBI investigation into Planned Parenthood, while network correspondent Peter Doocy claimed that he “searched the Planned Parenthood website for fetal baby part prices” but didn’t get any results because the practice is a “well-kept secret.” Other conservative media figures used CMP's videos to compare Planned Parenthood to Nazis, and used the videos to call for completely defunding the women's health care provider -- even going so far as to demand a government shutdown to do so.
These calls have made their way to anti-choice legislators across the United States and prompted 10 states to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood -- despite the detrimental impact this move would have on health care access in many communities.
Since its creation, the select panel has cost taxpayers $790,000 -- with an additional $490,000 recently authorized by the House in order to sustain the investigation through the end of the year. The costs for abortion providers -- in terms of their loss of safety -- has already become incalculable. Ranking member Schakowsky has been resolute: “This has not been -- nor will it ever be -- a fact-based investigation.” In response to the Republicans’ July 14 report, Schakowsky reiterated the danger of allowing a congressional body to act as mouthpiece for anti-choice extremists:
Once again Republicans are making inflammatory claims that they cannot substantiate and relying on manufactured documents and fraudulent videos that have been thoroughly discredited. Never before have I witnessed such a disconnect between allegations and the facts.
If the Panel were just a waste of taxpayer money and congressional time, it would be bad enough. But this has serious and devastating effects on real people. If you rely on Planned Parenthood provided health care, they want to close women's clinics. If you think women should make their own health decisions, they want politicians to dictate your choices and limit your right to decide when and whether to have children based on your own situation. If you support medical research, their attacks on fetal tissue research are already stalling work on diseases like MS.
And if you believe that congressional Republicans care about individual privacy and safety, you would have learned otherwise today. Despite public promises to “act responsibly with each and every name” that they are collecting -- Republicans today publicly named names without regard to the consequences.
Their interim report, which Democrats learned about through a press advisory, proves that this Panel needs to be disbanded now, before more lives are put at risk.