Congressional GOP Issue Letters That Rely On "Evidence" From Discredited Anti-Choice Group

Congressional GOP Issue Letters That Rely On "Evidence" From Discredited Anti-Choice Group

The Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives Again Tries To Use Documents From CMP To Attack Fetal Tissue Research

››› ››› SHARON KANN

On June 1, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chairman of the Congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, released two letters and a press release calling for an investigation into “potential violations of federal law” by the tissue procurement company, StemExpress, and several abortion providers. Like previous claims made by Republicans on the select panel, the letters relied heavily on documents taken directly from the discredited work of the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

House Republicans Form Select Committee To Investigate Fetal Tissue Donation After CMP Releases Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood

House Republicans Create "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives" Following Release Of Deceptively Edited Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood. In October 2015, House Republicans voted to create a special committee to investigate abortion service providers and fetal tissue donation. The vote followed the release of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which targeted Planned Parenthood officials and fetal tissue procurement companies.The committee was later named the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. [Huffington Post, 10/7/15]

CMP Founder Has Been Indicted By A Grand Jury While Planned Parenthood Has Consistently Been Cleared Of Wrongdoing

Anti-Choice CMP Has Released Multiple Deceptive Videos Attacking Planned Parenthood -- All Of Which Have Been Debunked. Since July 2015, CMP has released multiple videos containing undercover footage of discussions with Planned Parenthood personnel and staff members of private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies. CMP has claimed that its videos show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, and that the words of Planned Parenthood personnel who were secretly filmed have been "grossly [taken] out of context." [Media Matters, 8/31/15]

Growing Number Of Planned Parenthood Investigations Have Cleared Organization Of Any Wrongdoing. CMP’s deceptively edited videos have spurred at least 13 states to launch investigations into Planned Parenthood's operations, even though there are "only three states in which Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics can participate in fetal tissue donation programs," according to Yahoo News. Thirteen states -- Massachusetts, Indiana, South Dakota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Kansas, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina -- and the Department of Health and Human Services have all announced that they found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood or known violations of federal fetal tissue laws. [Media Matters, 8/24/15]

Texas Grand Jury Indicted Two Members Of Anti-Choice Group CMP. In January, a Houston grand jury charged with investigating Planned Parenthood following the release of CMP’s deceptive videos purporting to show misconduct, cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. The jury instead indicted CMP founder David Daleiden and his associate Sandra Merritt for tampering with a governmental record in creating fake California driver's licenses. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to his offers to Planned Parenthood officials in Texas to purchase human organs. [Media Matters,1/26/16]

Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives Released Letters Calling For Federal Investigation And Provided “Advance Copies” To Fox News

Select Panel Demands Federal Investigation Of “Potential Violations Of Federal Law By StemExpress” And Abortion Providers. On June 1, select panel Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) released two letters to separate entities at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding a federal investigation into “potential violations of federal law by StemExpress and a number of abortion clinics.” StemExpress is a tissue procurement company that was featured in CMP’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood and subsequently targeted by the select panel. Blackburn alleged that the select panel had “uncovered” evidence that “StemExpress and the abortion clinics violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and consent regulations governed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).” She concluded that the “business contract between StemExpress and the abortion clinics … takes financial advantage, obtains consent through coercion, and deceives the woman, all in violation of federal privacy laws.” From Blackburn’s press release:

In a letter to the Office of Centralized Case Management Operations at HHS, Chairman Blackburn asks Director Jocelyn Samuels to examine evidence uncovered by the Select Panel’s investigation that shows StemExpress and the abortion clinics violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPAA privacy rule is a patients’ rights law, designed to empower the patient to determine when and where their private medical information will be disclosed.

[...]

“The key to understanding the HIPAA and consent violations that we’ve referred to HHS is that there’s a business contract between StemExpress and the abortion clinics under which both sides make a profit from the baby body parts inside the young woman’s womb,” Chairman Blackburn said. “The contract changes the way both entities view the young woman: her baby is now a profit-center. This betrayal of a young woman’s trust should disgust us all. It takes financial advantage, obtains consent through coercion, and deceives the woman, all in violation of federal privacy laws.” [Press Release, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16]

Fox News Received “Advance Copies” Of The Select Panel’s Letters And Aired “Exclusive” Report Promoting Allegations. In an “exclusive” report, Fox News chief legal correspondent Shannon Bream touted  allegations from the select panel’s letters and interviewed Blackburn about them. During the May 31 edition of Special Report With Bret Baier -- a day before the letters were publicly released -- Bream repeated allegations made by Blackburn and suggested that StemExpress and Planned Parenthood had operated in “direct violation of federal law.” From the May 31 edition of Special Report With Bret Baier:

BRET BAIER: A Fox News exclusive tonight -- new information on the relationship between abortion providers and those who traffic in human body parts. Here's chief legal correspondent Shannon Bream.

SHANNON BREAM: Republicans on the House panel investigating the fetal tissue market and its links with the abortion industry are making stunning new claims and requesting multiple federal investigations. Fox has exclusively obtained letters and documentation outlining the contractual arrangement between StemExpress -- a top fetal tissue procurement company -- and several abortion clinics including two Planned Parenthood affiliates, which appear to give individuals outside the clinic access to "patient's individually identifiable health information," which would be a direct violation of federal law.

MARSHA BLACKBURN: I think that women who are going into these clinics have absolutely no idea that an outside organization that is a business that makes a profit is looking at their information.

BREAM: Panel chair Marsha Blackburn alleges the contract shows StemExpress was allowed to illegally review patient's most private medical and personal information in order to match them up with the daily orders StemExpress had for specific fetal organs and body parts. In addition, Blackburn says patients were consistently given invalid consent forms, which may also violate federal law.

BLACKBURN: The forms will say, "Do you want to donate to participate in the cure of Alzheimer’s, or cancer, or various diseases." Well, these fetal tissues have not been used in that type research or cure

BREAM: Democrats on the panel continue to ask that the panel itself be disbanded. Saying in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, "The danger posed by the panel is real and serious." Democrats say Blackburn is abusing her subpoena power to "intimidate scientific researchers and doctors." Under federal law, it is illegal to sell fetal tissue, though donations are legal. Blackburn says that's one of the reasons she's using subpoena power when the parties won't cooperate so she can determine why specimens for which tissue procurement companies pay abortion clinics in the range of $50 to $75 wind up listed for sale on the web for hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. [Fox News, Special Report With Bret Baier, 5/31/16]

Screenshot Of Fox News “Exclusive” Proves Network Had Copies Of Letters Before Their Public Release

Select Panel Democrats Blast Republicans For Leaking Documents And Disregarding Personal Safety Of Providers, Researchers, And Patients

Rewire: Originally Released Letters “Failed To Redact Researchers’ Names And Contact Information.” After the original release of the select panel’s letters on June 1, Rewire’s Christine Grimaldi noted that Republicans had “failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information” from the attached documents. The documents included identifying information about “researchers from top U.S. universities and at least one hospital, and … also named StemExpress and Planned Parenthood employees.” In a statement to Rewire, a spokesperson for the panel Democrats said this failure “is further evidence this Panel should be brought to an end.” [Rewire, 6/1/16]

Ranking Member Rep. Jan Schakowsky Says She Is  “Deeply Concerned” About Panel Republicans’ “Violation Of House Rules” And Failure To “Protect Individual Privacy And Security.” The ranking Democratic member of the select panel, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), released a letter blasting panel Republicans’ failure to follow House rules and protect confidential information. In the June 3 letter, Schakowsky wrote that she was “deeply concerned” about the Republicans’ choice to “provide FOX News advance copies of letters … before sending them to HHS or sharing them” with panel Democrats. Beyond criticizing panel Republicans’ “violation of House rules,” Schakowsky also wrote that their decision to release the letters “without redacting the names and contact information of doctors and researchers” represented a failure to “protect individual privacy and security.” According to Schakowsky, this latest incident has “proven the risk of having this information in the hands of Panel Republicans: there is nothing to stop you from publicly releasing any of the information that you collect.” From Rep. Schakowsky’s June 3 letter:

I am deeply concerned by your decision this week to provide FOX News advance copies of letters to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) before sending them to HHS or sharing them with me.  In those letters, you again allege wrongdoing by StemExpress based on documents and secret “testimony” that you continue to withhold from Democrats in violation of House rules and without affording the company the opportunity to answer your claims, something it offered to do months ago.       

You also released these letters and documents without redacting the names and contact information of doctors and researchers, despite repeatedly claiming that you take individual privacy and safety concerns seriously and would protect names and personal information from public disclosure. Following the Panel’s March 2, 2016 hearing, for example, you had the following exchange with a reporter:

[...]

Panel Democrats have repeatedly objected to your sweeping documents requests and abuse of unilateral subpoena power, and have asked for rules that limit the information being collected and protect individual privacy and security.  You have ignored our requests.  As a result, the Panel now has information – including the names of researchers, doctors, and students, the records of victims of rape, and personal financial information – that Congress has no right or need to know.  

You have proven the risk of having this information in the hands of Panel Republicans:  there is nothing to stop you from publicly releasing any of the information that you collect.  [Letter to Chairman Blackburn, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/3/16]

Select Panel Republicans Removed Press Release And Letters From Their Website And Later Reposted. On June 3, the select panel Republicans removed their letters to HHS and Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) press release from the committee’s website. No statement was made regarding the decision to remove the press release and letters from the website at the time of their deletion. By the end of the day, the press release and letters had returned to the website with the necessary private information redacted. On June 3, a spokesperson for Blackburn told Rewire that the unredacted versions were released due to "staff error." [Rewire, 6/3/16]

Nine Documents Used As “Evidence” In The Letters Can Be Linked To CMP’s Work

Nine Documents Submitted As “Evidence” In Select Panel’s  Letters Are Linked To CMP’s Work. The letters include a total of  27 distinct documents submitted as evidence, seven of which have been previously linked to CMP. Media Matters identified two additional documents from the select panel’s letters that could be matched to documents illegally obtained by CMP during its smear campaign against StemExpress and Planned Parenthood. [Media Matters, 4/22/16; Media Matters, 3/7/16]

Identical Attachments C And D In Letters Match CMP Documents

Select Panel’s Letter To Jerry Menikoff: Attachment C Shows Abortion Providers “Faxed The Next Day’s Schedule” Of Patients “Directly To The StemExpress Tissue Procurement Technician.” The select panel’s letter about alleged Institutional Review Board (IRB) infractions was addressed to Jerry Menikoff, the director of the HHS Office for Human Research Protections. In this letter, Attachment C is identified as a “Fax from The Alameda, San Jose [Planned Parenthood clinics] to StemExpress, Jan. 10, 2013.” Summarizing a supposed “daily work sequence” for a StemExpress technician, the letter argued that Attachment C showed abortion providers “faxed the next day’s schedule” of patients and their procedures “directly to the StemExpress tissue procurement technician” working in their clinic. Attachment C includes identifying information for the clinic, and a notation that the first appointment time the next day will be 8:30 a.m. [Letter to Director Jerry Menikoff, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16; Attachment C 6/1/16]

Select Panel’s Letter To Jocelyn Samuels: Attachment D Shows “StemExpress Employees” Were Able To “Obtain Individually Identifiable Health Information” In Violation Of HIPAA. The select panel’s letter alleging StemExpress and and abortion providers had violated HIPAA regulations was addressed to HHS’ director of centralized case management operations, Jocelyn Samuels. As evidence of wrongdoing, the select panel again pointed to the document identified as a “Fax from The Alameda, San Jose [Planned Parenthood clinics] to StemExpress, Jan. 10, 2013” -- this time labeled as Attachment D in footnote 7. According to the letter, “StemExpress employees” were in violation of HIPAA when they would “obtain individually identifiable health information” of patients in order “to procure human fetal tissue for resale.” [Letter to Director Jocelyn Samuels, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16; Attachment D, 6/1/16]

CMP Document Labeled “Procurement Log” And “Baby Parts Harvested From Planned Parenthood In San Jose, California On 1-10-13” Is Identical To  Attachments C And D In Panel’s Letters. CMP’s website lists a “procurement log” as among the documents discovered during the group’s smear campaign. CMP argues the faxed documents show a record of “baby parts harvested from Planned Parenthood” at a clinic in San Jose, CA, on “January 10, 2013.” The front page of the fax also includes identifying information for the clinic, and a notation that the first appointment time for the next day will be 8:30 a.m. [Center for Medical Progress, Accessed June 2016]

Comparison Of Documents Shows They Are Identical

And The Panel’s Document Includes An Additional Notation Of “CMP19” At The Top. The only difference between the document found on CMP’s website and the panel’s attachments C and D was the insertion of a notation in the top left corner reading “CMP19.” [Letters to HHS Regarding HIPAA Privacy Rule and IRB Regulations, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16]

Identical Attachments H And I In Letters Match CMP Documents

Select Panel’s Letter To Jerry Menikoff: Attachment H Shows StemExpress “Paid An Hourly Wage” And A “Bonus” To Compensate Technicians. In the select panel’s letter to Menikoff, Attachment H was a set of documents described in the letter as the “Procurement Technician Compensation Policy for Tissue and Blood Procurement.” According to the letter sent by panel Chairman Blackburn, the documents show that StemExpress “paid an hourly wage” and a “‘bonus’ for each item [technicians] procured.” The third page of Attachment H is titled  “Compensation Policy for Mileage and Other Expenses.” [Letter to Director Jerry Menikoff, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16; Attachment H, 6/1/16]

Select Panel’s Letter to Jocelyn Samuels: Attachment I Is The “Procurement Technician Compensation Policy For Tissue And Blood Procurement.” In the select panel’s letter to Jocelyn Samuels, a document referred to as “Procurement Technician Compensation Policy For Tissue And Blood Procurement” is labeled Attachment I. Just as in the letter to Menikoff, select panel Republicans here allege the documents show that StemExpress improperly compensates its employees. The third page of Attachment I is titled “Compensation Policy for Mileage and Other Expenses.” [Letter to Director Jocelyn Samuels, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/1/16; Attachment I, 6/1/16]

CMP Document Labeled “StemExpress Bonus Structure for Baby Parts” Is Identical To Attachments H And I In Panel’s Letters. CMP’s website features a set of documents labeled “StemExpress Bonus Structure for Baby Parts” as evidence that StemExpress technicians were offered “bonuses based on the number of fetal parts specimens they can harvest.” The final page of this document shows a policy that  StemExpress employees can be compensated for “mileage and other expenses.” [Center for Medical Progress, Accessed June 2016]

Comparison Of Documents Shows They Are Identical

Previous Select Panel Allegations Have Also Relied Extensively On CMP’s Discredited Work

In Its First Hearing, The Select Panel Relied On "Evidence" Pulled Directly From CMP. Previous Media Matters research found that Republican members of the select panel presented “evidence” during the panel’s first hearing that was pulled directly from CMP's website and videos. For example, when Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced Exhibit A3, she presented a form that she described as "the consent form that is used in some of these [abortion] clinics." This same form was listed on CMP's website as a "Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donation form." In its 14th video, CMP confirmed that its document was the source of Exhibit A3 by transposing the forms on top of one another and removing the redaction bars -- indicating that the two were identical. Of the 12 total exhibits, three could be sourced directly to CMP’s website. [Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 3/2/16; Media Matters, 3/7/16; 4/7/16]

Second Select Panel Hearing Continued Promoting Discredited CMP Propaganda As “Evidence.” Media Matters’ report on the select panel’s second hearing similarly found that much of the panel’s “evidence” could be linked to CMP. Of the 26 documents presented (excluding charts or graphs created by select panel staff), 10 could be traced back to CMP’s website or deceptively edited videos. In particular, select panel Republicans relied on evidence sourced from CMP to accuse Planned Parenthood of violating patient privacy, improperly gaining patient consent to donate fetal tissue, and profiting from those donations. [Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 4/20/16; Media Matters, 4/22/16]

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.