Four Things The Media Should Know When Covering The “Benghazi Treatment” Of Planned Parenthood By Congressional Republicans

Republicans in Congress established the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives in October 2015 following baseless allegations from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that Planned Parenthood was involved in the sale of fetal tissue. As state investigations clear Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing but it continues to get the Republican “Benghazi treatment,” here are four things the media should know when covering the congressional panel.

Select Committee On Infant Lives Subpoenas Multiple Groups

The Washington Post: Despite CMP's “Legal Setbacks,” The Select Committee's Investigation Of Fetal Tissue Practices Is “Moving Ahead Quickly” By Issuing Multiple Subpoenas. Since its inception, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has reached broadly, requesting documents from “more than 30 agencies and organizations,” including from organizations that provide health services to women and conduct medical research. On February 11, the panel's chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), announced subpoenas for three of those organizations that had, she argued, “failed to fully cooperate with document requests.” According to The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis, “the investigation is moving ahead quickly despite recent legal setbacks for the Center for Medical Progress,” a group whose leader was indicted by a Houston grand jury January 25 for allegedly breaking the law in executing CMP's undercover ruse against Planned Parenthood. [The Washington Post, 2/15/16]

But There Are Four Important Things The Media Should Know About The Scope And Effects Of The Panel's Investigation ...

1. The Investigation Is Based On Misinformation And Represents A “Benghazi Treatment” Of Planned Parenthood

The Daily Beast: With Select Panel Investigation, “Planned Parenthood Is About To Get The Benghazi Treatment” From House Republicans. In an October 1, 2015, article for The Daily Beast, Betsy Woodruff argued that the creation of the panel indicated that “Planned Parenthood is about to get the Benghazi treatment.” Drawing parallels between the House's long and controversial investigations into the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that failed to uncover evidence for baseless allegations leveled against Obama administration figures' handling of the aftermath of the attack, Woodruff noted that Republicans, “who have long bemoaned” Planned Parenthood's federal funding, are “determined not to squander this opportunity” to attack the organization. From The Daily Beast:

If that sounds a bit like the House's investigation of how the White House handled the 2012 terrorist attacks on the Benghazi consulate, it's because it is.

That select committee has long drawn scorching criticism, including from some conservatives who have argued it isn't working fast enough. But it also netted Republicans one of their biggest wins of the last year: the discovery that Hillary Clinton used a personal email address on a private server as Secretary of State. That find generated a cascade of terrible news for the now-candidate.

Some Republicans have struggled to defend that committee's efforts as apolitical. On Fox News'Hannity, Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy pointed to Clinton's sagging poll numbers as evidence of the committee's success.

“What you're going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win,” he said. “And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

McCarthy's implication: The Benghazi committee was just a political tool--and a highly effective one, at that. The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee said the Planned Parenthood efforts would share that motive.

“The parallel is, this is going to be one endless investigation,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the committee. “That's what the parallel is.” [The Daily Beast, 10/1/15]

The Washington Post: Despite A Lack Of Evidence, The Panel “Is Undeterred” In Continuing Its “Witch Hunt” Against Planned Parenthood. On February 20, The Washington Post editorial board lambasted the panel's efforts and warned of the “potential damage to health care and medical research” if “considerable time and money” were “wasted” on the investigation. They wrote that in spite of a litany of evidence debunking the deceptive CMP videos and exonerating Planned Parenthood, the Panel “is undeterred in conducting its own investigation, or more accurately, witch hunt.” From The Washington Post editorial board (emphasis added):

Twelve states that undertook investigations of Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing. An additional eight states refused even to investigate, citing lack of credible evidence. A grand jury in Texas and a federal judge in California exonerated the organization after each conducted extensive reviews. Three congressional committees failed to turn up any improprieties. In short, the hidden-camera videos purporting to show illegal selling of fetal tissue show no such thing.

Despite all that, a Republican-led House panel is undeterred in conducting its own investigation, or, more accurately, witch hunt. Even more troubling than the considerable time and money that will be wasted is the potential damage to health care and medical research.


Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair of the House panel, has defended the investigation as necessary because of lingering questions raised by secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood personnel released last year by the equally misnamed Center for Medical Progress. Those videos, supposedly showing Planned Parenthood illegally selling aborted fetal organs for profit, have been discredited. A grand jury empaneled in Houston to investigate Planned Parenthood ended up indicting the activists who produced the videos and, after reviewing the evidence for two months, cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick reached the same conclusion, granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting release of illegally obtained recordings and materials in a decision that laid bare the fraud against Planned Parenthood. Also noted by the judge was the alarming increase in incidents of harassment and violence directed against abortion providers since the videos were released last July. Among them: four incidents of arson and the attack on a Colorado clinic by a gunman in which three people were killed. [The Washington Post 2/20/16]

RH Reality Check: Panel Is “Plowing Ahead” With Subpoenas That Democrats Argue Are An “Abusive And Unjustifiable Use Of” Its Authority. Discussing the recent subpoenas, RH Reality Check's Nicole Knight Shine wrote that the panel was “plowing ahead with an investigation into unsubstantiated claims” of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. The February 16 article said the subpoenas sparked outrage from Democrats who called the panel's actions “appalling” and said they were an “abusive and unjustifiable use of the chair's unilateral subpoena authority.” The legislators cited anti-choice violence against abortion providers following CMP's release of its deceptively edited videos as a reason for “serious concerns” about the type of information being demanded by the subpoenas. [RH Reality Check, 2/16/16]

2. The Information Being Demanded Puts Abortion Providers, Researchers, And Patients At Risk Of Violence

Mother Jones: Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Shooting Proves That The Information Being Demanded “Could Put The Subjects Of The Investigation At Risk.” Mother Jones' Becca Andrews wrote that the panel's subpoena of StemExpress, a firm that provides human tissues for medical research, demanded documentation including the “name and title” of all employees past and present who had any involvement with fetal tissue “procuring, researching, storing, packaging for donation, sale, transport, or disposal.” Citing the November 2015 attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood health care center and a longer history of anti-choice violence against abortion providers, Andrews noted that there are wider concerns “that the subpoenas could put the subjects of the investigation at risk” by revealing their personal information. [Mother Jones, 2/18/16]

The Hill: Forcing Disclosure Of Identifying Information “Poses A Grave Risk To Individual Privacy And Safety.” Responding to the panel's demand for identifying information, The Hill reported that Democrats were “urging” reconsideration out of fear that such disclosures would “endanger abortion doctors and patients.” They warned against creating a “database of individuals involved in abortion or fetal tissue research,” which Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, the top Democrat on the panel, said would pose “a grave risk to individual privacy and safety.” [The Hill, 2/16/16]

Vox: Abortion Providers Have Seen “An Unprecedented Increase In Hate Speech And Threats” Since CMP Released Videos. Vox's Emily Crockett reported November 28 that “threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer, when anti-abortion activists released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of 'selling baby parts.'” Crockett noted that there have been at least nine “criminal or suspicious incidents” at Planned Parenthood facilities, and harassment of the organization “increased ninefold” after CMP released its first video. In particular, providers have also seen “an unprecedented increase in hate speech and threats”:

It's also clear that threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer, when anti-abortion activists released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of “selling baby parts.”

Back in September, CBS reported that the FBI had noticed an uptick in attacks on reproductive health care facilities since the first video was released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). There were nine criminal or suspicious incidents (including cyber attacks, threats, and arsons) from July, when the videos first came out, through mid-September.

An FBI Intelligence Assessment at the time found these attacks were “consistent with the actions of lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement.” Moreover, the report said it was “likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.”

Less than two weeks after CBS reported that, another abortion clinic was firebombed in California. It was the fourth arson at a Planned Parenthood location in as many months.


Abortion providers have seen “an unprecedented increase in hate speech and threats” since the CMP videos came out, Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said in a statement Friday. Incidents of harassment at Planned Parenthood facilities increased ninefold in July, when the videos came out, over June, according to a motion for preliminary injunction that NAF filed this month against CMP and its founder David Daleiden. [Vox, 11/28/15]

3. Targeting Clinics Denies Women Access To Necessary Health Care

Mother Jones: Subpoena Targets New Mexico Clinic That “Serves An Even Greater Population” Following Texas Clinic Closures. Two of the groups targeted by the panel's subpoenas were a New Mexico clinic called Southwestern Women's Options and the University of New Mexico's Health Science Center. Mother Jones reported that in addition to posing a threat to providers, the panel's targeting of these two entities affects access to care for numerous women. For example, Southwestern Women's Options is an integral regional provider, and  “as abortions become more difficult to access in the state of Texas, the clinic serves an even greater population” than ever before. Similarly, the University of New Mexico's Health Science Center is responsible for training the next generation of reproductive health care providers, teaching medical students “how to perform abortions, among other obstetric and gynecological procedures.” [Mother Jones, 2/18/16]

Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP): Clinic Closure “Leaves Many Women Without Hope And Without Options.” In a new study, the research center Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of Texas' restrictive anti-choice law, HB 2. Already as a result of the Texas law, a large number of Texas clinics have been forced to close -- forcing women to travel greater distances at great personal cost or to forego care altogether. Through these interviews TxPEP found that women's health care “was delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether” from obtaining an abortion. Investigators also noted that the subjects not only “reported a lack of information and confusion” in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many “faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services.” [Texas Policy Evaluation Project, 1/19/16; Media Matters 2/5/16]

The New York Times: Texas Abortion Restrictions “Have Already Caused About Half Of The State's 41 Abortion Clinics To Close” And Will Relegate Services To Just Four Urban Areas. In a September 3 article, The New York Times explained that parts of Texas' restrictive HB 2 law “have already caused about half of the state's 41 abortion clinics to close.” It notes that Texas abortion providers fighting portions of the law say that if “the contested provisions take effect ... the number of clinics will again be halved,” and those remaining would be “clustered in four metropolitan areas”:

Other parts of the law have already caused about half of the state's 41 abortion clinics to close. If the contested provisions take effect, Wednesday's filing [from state abortion providers] said, the number of clinics will again be halved.

The remaining clinics, the brief said, would be clustered in four metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

“There would be no licensed abortion facilities west of San Antonio,” the brief said. The only clinic south of San Antonio, in McAllen, it added, would have “extremely limited capacity.” [The New York Times, 9/3/15]

4. Continuing To Give CMP's Planned Parenthood Smear Campaign A Platform Impedes Lifesaving Research

Star Tribune: Important Research “Jeopardized By A Debate” Prompted By “Suspect” Allegations. Speaking to Jeremy Olson of the Star Tribune, several scientists who work with fetal tissue expressed concern that their important research could be “jeopardized by a debate they thought had been resolved long ago.” According to Olson, although the CMP videos that motivated this debate are “suspect,” they have still “prompted new calls to ban the research” as well as restrictions on tissue acquisition and disposal. The work put at risk by CMP's fraudulent videos includes research to cure “HIV, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and spinal cord injury,” Olson wrote. [Star Tribune, 2/13/16]

Scientists Tell Mother Jones That “Bogus” Attacks On Planned Parenthood Undermine “Life-Saving Research.” In an October 26 article, Mother Jones highlighted scientists explaining that “the vilification” of Planned Parenthood in the aftermath of the “bogus” deceptively edited videos may have serious consequences for the “life-saving research” that fetal tissue donations enable. Mother Jones reported that attempts to discredit Planned Parenthood have already had a chilling effect on fetal tissue donations, noting that labs that once “distributed 1,109 tissue samples to more than 60 researchers” in the last year now have “only five specimens in total.”Gail Robertson, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told Mother Jones that these setbacks are “anti-progress” because “we're in a fight for the future of cures to the diseases that will affect us all.” From Mother Jones (emphasis added):

Since July, an anti-abortion group's deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood for allegedly profiting off sales of fetal tissue appear to have prompted at least four arson attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics. And even though the allegations were bogus, the vilification of the women's health organization has done additional damage: Violent threats and a political chill in the wake of the videos have begun to undermine potentially life-saving research on diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Fetal-tissue donation programs essential to such research have been shut down, supplies of the tissue to labs have dwindled, and legislation is brewing in multiple states that could hinder cutting-edge scientific studies.

“It's anti-progress,” says Gail Robertson, a veteran researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who uses cell lines derived from fetal tissue to study heart disease, including sudden cardiac death, the largest cause of natural death in the United States. “We're in a fight for the future of cures to the diseases that will affect us all.”

Since the 1990s, Robertson and her colleagues have developed pharmaceutical technology using cells from embryonic tissue known as the HEK line--research credited with saving lives from fatal heart disease. “If lawmakers were to say, 'You can't use HEK cells because they come from fetal tissue,' it would be impossible to continue my work in my lab,” Robertson says. “It's something we use every single day.” [Mother Jones, 10/26/15]

Vocativ: Guttmacher Institute Report Proves “Measurable Ways” That Fetal Tissue Research “Is Under Serious Threat.” The impact of CMP's deceptively edited videos is already being felt by researchers who rely on fetal tissue donations to conduct critical research, according to Vocativ. Reporting on new research from the Guttmacher Institute, Vocativ's Tracy Clark-Flory noted that fetal tissue research “has become a 'casualty' in the war on abortion.” Speaking to Vocativ, Guttmacher's director of public policy Heather Boonstra explained that anti-choice groups have turned fetal tissue research “into a weapon to attack Planned Parenthood” -- a move that is a “direct threat” to providers and “directly endangers the many potential benefits of fetal tissue research”:

Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher's director of public policy, tells Vocativ that “fetal tissue continues to be an important resource for researchers studying degenerative eye disease, human development disorders such as Down syndrome, and early brain development, which is relevant to understanding the causes of autism and schizophrenia.”


Fetal tissue doesn't just represent hope for things like an HIV vaccine, though. You can already thank it for virtually eliminating measles, polio and rubella in the United States. It's also responsible for vaccines for chickenpox, hepatitis A, mumps, rabies, tetanus and whooping cough. And it's currently being used to develop vaccines for dengue fever, Ebola and HIV.

But this research could slow to a crawl, thanks to recent political pressure, according to Guttmacher. “Antiabortion activists have cynically turned fetal tissue donation and research into a weapon to attack Planned Parenthood,” said Boonstra. “This is not only a direct threat to a leading provider of reproductive and other health services, but also directly endangers the many potential benefits of fetal tissue research--potentially harming millions of people around the world who might eventually benefit from this work.” [Vocativ, 2/11/16]