Vox’s Emily Crockett blasted the “Benghazi-style” House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which “rests on top of a giant powder keg of anti-abortion extremism,” for “recklessly intimidating scientists and researchers.” Crockett explained how the special committee, tasked with investigating fetal tissue donation by abortion providers, is targeting “anyone the committee can find who has a tangential connection to the issue” with subpoenas and putting them at risk of “violence from anti-abortion extremists.”
Since July the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released a series of deceptively edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illicitly sells fetal tissue. Despite the fact that a growing number of states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found no wrongdoing on the part of the women’s health organization, right-wing media and lawmakers have used the videos to target Planned Parenthood. Additionally, since the release of the videos, at least four Planned Parenthood clinics have been attacked in what law enforcement authorities consider possible acts of domestic terrorism, and an anti-choice activist has admitted that “over-heated rhetoric” and smears could be partially to blame for anti-choice violence.
The April 29 Vox article noted how researchers using fetal tissue research to try to cure disease are "being terrorized” as a result of the House panel investigating CMP’s claims, and explained that “Being dragged into the limelight by Congress to talk about fetuses, or being forced to have their name entered into a public record because they work with fetuses, could be legitimately dangerous for scientists and researchers”:
House Republicans have made a public enemy out of Planned Parenthood, of course, but they're not stopping there. They also have their eye on companies that handle fetal tissue, medical researchers, and even medical students — essentially, anyone the committee can find who has a tangential connection to the issue, except those who brought the spurious allegations about “selling baby parts” in the first place.
Meanwhile, the scrutiny is interfering with the jobs of scientists and medical providers. At best, they live in fear of a subpoena; at worst, there's a target on their back for violence from anti-abortion extremists.
Doctors who provide safe, legal abortion already live this nightmare every day. Public witch hunts like this House panel certainly aren't helping that. But they are helping to make sure that scientists and researchers will get to experience the same treatment.
This panel shouldn't exist in the first place
How did we get here? Last summer, a series of anti-abortion videos, produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its founder David Daleiden, came out claiming that “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.”
Since then, it's become clear that the videos are blatant propaganda. That's not just my conclusion, but the conclusion that most credible media organizations couldn't ignore after learning the facts.
Fetal tissue research is incredibly important. It brought us the vaccines against polio and chicken pox, and it could one day bring us the cure to Alzheimer's or diabetes.
But because of the videos, this entire field is now under attack. Some states have started passing or proposing laws against fetal tissue research, including Indiana's bizarre new “bury your miscarriage” law that effectively bans tissue donation. And now the attack has moved to the federal level.
It's bad enough to risk intimidating scientists and young researchers out of entering an important field. But it gets even worse. The House's “Panel on Infant Lives” also rests on top of a giant powder keg of anti-abortion extremism, which has already exploded once in 2015's shocking escalation of violence against abortion providers.
Whole books have been written about the systematic terrorism that abortion providers, clinic staff, and volunteers are threatened with every day — from stalking and threats, to “Wanted” posters that feature doctors' photos and addresses, to vandalism and firebombs at clinics.
It's bad enough that the videos and the endless political outrage around them undoubtedly caused more of this violence. But now, the people who use fetal tissue research to try to cure disease are also being terrorized.
One university researcher spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity because the threats he's received have led his institution to post a guard outside his laboratory.
Congressional investigations aren't supposed to work like trials. They're supposed to work like investigations.
Being dragged into the limelight by Congress to talk about fetuses, or being forced to have their name entered into a public record because they work with fetuses, could be legitimately dangerous for scientists and researchers like these.
It doesn't matter how many times CMP's claims have been proven wrong, or how often Daleiden's years-long history with other dubious smear campaigns gets pointed out. To some anti-abortion Republicans in Congress, these videos will always be indisputable evidence that Planned Parenthood was caught on tape doing something both immoral and illegal, and that these claims deserve serious investigation.
It doesn't matter how much time or money all of this costs lawmakers or taxpayers. It doesn't matter that violent threats against abortion providers skyrocketed in 2015, and that a gunman ranting about “baby parts” shot up a Planned Parenthood in November in the deadliest-ever attack on a US abortion clinic.
It doesn't matter how many investigations there have already been, and it never will. For the anti-abortion movement and their supporters in Congress, there will always be more investigating to do. There's always the chance that this time, they'll finally expose Planned Parenthood's evil deeds for all the world to see.