A Comprehensive Guide To The Select Panel’s Reliance On Anti-Choice Media

A Comprehensive Guide To The Select Panel’s Reliance On Anti-Choice Media

How A Discredited Anti-Choice Group Became A Primary Source Of Misinformation For A Congressional Witch Hunt Against Abortion Patients, Providers, And Clinics

››› ››› SHARON KANN

Since its inception in October 2015, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has used numerous documents taken from the discredited organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and other anti-choice groups to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, while 14 investigations to date have cleared the organization of all wrongdoing. 

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Documents & Hearings

warnings from select panel democrats

House Republicans Formed Select Committee To Investigate Fetal Tissue Donation After CMP Released Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood

House Republicans Created "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. [The Huffington Post, 10/7/15]

Slate: December 2016 Funding Extension For Panel Is “A Desperate Grasp For Relevance From A Committee That Has Been Conducting An Expensive Witch Hunt.” In a December 2 article, Slate’s Christina Cauterucci reported that “the House more than doubled” the select panel’s operating budget through the end of the year “in a vote along party lines.” Although the panel Republicans referred eight abortion providers and tissue procurement organizations to various state and federal entities, Cauterucci explained that in reality, Republicans have “not uncovered any evidence that any abortion providers are selling the remains of aborted fetuses, as the Center for Medical Progress’ discredited ‘sting videos’ claimed.” Given this, she wrote that the announcement and funding extension were “a desperate grasp for relevance from a committee that has been conducting an expensive witch hunt.” [Slate, 12/2/16]

CMP’s Claims Have Been Debunked 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 claimed that its videos showed that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit. 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]

To Date, 14 Investigations Have Cleared Planned Parenthood. CMP’s deceptively edited videos have spurred at least 13 states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 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. All 13 states -- Massachusetts, Indiana, South Dakota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Kansas, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina -- and the health department have announced that they found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood nor any 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, TX, grand jury charged with investigating Planned Parenthood following the release of CMP’s deceptive videos 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. Both indictments were later dismissed on technicalities related to “language left out of the original indictment” and evidentiary limits, not on the merits of the charges. [Media Matters1/26/167/28/16; The Texas Observer, 7/14/16]

The Select Panel Has Consistently Received Information From And Shared Information With Discredited Organization CMP And Other Anti-Choice Groups

The Select Panel Has Cited Documentation From CMP And Other Anti-Choice Groups As Evidence. Since its inception in October 2015, the select panel has held three hearings, released several letters, and issued reports using documents from CMP and other anti-choice groups as so-called “evidence” of wrongdoing by abortion providers and organizations that contract with them. Several anti-choice organizations have long touted their influence over the panel’s investigators, and in September the National Catholic Register confirmed that the anti-choice groups “Protest ABQ, along with New Mexico Alliance for Life, Operation Rescue, Live Action and others, provided documentation and materials to the congressional committee.” In one instance, the select panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), directly cited allegations from New Mexico Alliance for Life (NMAFL) to accuse abortion providers working with the University of New Mexico (UNM) of wrongdoing. [National Catholic Register, 9/19/16 ; Media Matters, 8/26/16]

NMAFL Confirmed “The Select Panel Has Cited Documents We Have Submitted.” In July 2016, NMAFL confirmed providing information about New Mexico abortion providers to Republicans on the select panel. In a statement to the Albuquerque Journal, NMAFL executive director Elisa Martinez said, “The Select Panel has cited documents we have submitted from our investigation obtained by using open records requests and legal avenues in order to expose potential violations of the law.” Prior to this statement, NMAFL had taken credit on its website for at least five documents that the organization claimed it had “exclusively provided to the Panel.” In instances where UNM provided its own documentation to the panel in response to broad subpoenas, the Journal reported on July 31 that Martinez “criticized UNM for redacting names and other identifying information.” [Albuquerque Journal, 7/13/167/31/16]

Panel Republicans Released A List Of "Criminal And Regulatory Referrals" To Operation Rescue Without Releasing It On Panel's Website. On December 1, the extreme anti-choice group Operation Rescue published a press release stating that “The House Select Panel on Infant Lives has released a list of nine criminal and regulatory referrals against abortion providers and/or fetal tissue procurement companies made as a result of their investigation into the illegal practice of selling aborted baby remains for profit.” This list, however, was unavailable on the select panel Republicans' website at the time of Operation Rescue’s press release promoting the allegations. [Operation Rescue, 12/1/16]

Panel Republicans Previously Provided “Advance Copies” To Fox News. 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. A screenshot from Fox News' May 31 episode of Special Report With Bret Baier shows letters dated the following day, June 1, which is when the select panel Republicans released them on their website. [Fox News, Special Report With Bret Baier, 5/31/16]

Deception By The Numbers: The Panel Has Used 19 Documents From Anti-Choice Groups To Attack Abortion Providers

HEARING #1: Bioethics And Fetal Tissue (Three Documents)

In Its First Hearing, The Select Panel Relied On Three Pieces Of "Evidence" Pulled Directly From CMP. On March 2, the select panel held its first hearing, on the stated topic of “Bioethics and Fetal Tissue.” Media Matters found that Republican members of the select panel presented “evidence” during this hearing that was pulled directly from CMP's website and videos. 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]

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit A1 And CMP Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit A2 And CMP Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel's Exhibit A3 And CMP Document RevealsThey Are Identical: 

HEARING #2: The Pricing Of Fetal Tissue (8 Documents)

Second Select Panel Hearing Continued Promoting Discredited CMP Propaganda As “Evidence.” On April 20, the select panel held its second hearing, on the stated topic of “The Pricing of Fetal Tissue.” Media Matters found that multiple pieces of “evidence” could be linked to CMP. Of the 37 documents presented, 10 could be traced back to CMP’s website or its deceptively edited videos. Two of those had been shared during the previous hearing, but eight were new. In particular, select panel Republicans relied on documents sourced from CMP to accuse Planned Parenthood of violating patient privacy rules, 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]

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit B2 And CMP Document Reveals That They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit B3 And CMP’s Screenshot Reveals That They Are Nearly Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit C3 And CMP’s Screenshot Reveals That They Are Nearly Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit C5 And CMP Document Reveals That They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit C8 And CMP’s Document Shows That They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit C9 And CMP’s Document Shows That They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit 10 And CMP’s Document Shows That They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Exhibit C11 And CMP’s Document Shows That They Are Identical:

Panel Letters To Department Of Health and Human Services Included Documents From Anti-Choice Group (Two Documents)

Select Panel Demands Federal Investigation Of “Potential Violations Of Federal Law By StemExpress” And Abortion Providers. On June 1, Blackburn 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. In her letters to HHS, 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.” In the letter to Jeffrey Menikoff -- the director of the Office for Human Research Protections -- the select panel Republicans used nine documents sourced from CMP, two of which had not been shared in previous hearings. In the second letter, to the director of case management, Jocelyn Samuels, the Republicans included seven documents sourced from CMP, two of which were the same previously unreleased documents from the Menikoff letter. [Media Matters, 6/6/16]

CMP Document Labeled “Procurement Log” And “Baby Parts Harvested” Is Identical To Attachment C In First Letter, And Attachment D In Second:

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]

CMP Document Labeled “StemExpress Bonus Structure for Baby Parts” Is Identical To Attachment H In First Letter And I In Second:

 

Letter Sent To New Mexico Attorney General Included Documents From Anti-Choice Group (Six Documents)

Select Panel Demands New Mexico Attorney General Investigate UNM And Affiliated Abortion Providers. In a June 23 letter addressed to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas Jr., Blackburn cited allegations by NMAFL to demand an investigation of UNM and abortion providers at the affiliated clinic Southwest Women’s Options (SWWO). Blackburn alleged that UNM officials had improperly benefited from their relationship with abortion providers at SWWO and that the receipt of fetal tissue for research purposes violated the Spradling Act -- a state statute regulating the donation of anatomical gifts. Among her sources, Blackburn listed “the New Mexico Alliance for Life” without disclosing the explicit anti-abortion mission of the group, describing it instead as “a private organization.” Of the 37 documents the panel Republicans used, six could be sourced to NMAFL. [Letter to Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16; Media Matters, 8/26/16]

For privacy and safety reasons, Media Matters has elected not to link to NMAFL’s documents in instances where they include personal information about abortion providers.

Comparison Of The Panel’s Attachment 3 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals That They Are Identical:

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 7 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Attachment 11 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 19 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 29 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical:

Comparison Of Panel’s Attachment 32 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical:

There Has Been No Substantiation Of The Select Panel’s Claims, But Democrats Have Criticized Practices That Have Endangered Patients, Providers, And Clinics

Democrats’ Final Report: Republicans Have “Abused Congressional Authority” And Continued To Rely On “Discredited Daleiden/CMP Videos” With No Proof Of Wrongdoing. On December 5, the select panel Democrats released a 117-page final report about the panel’s work, explaining that despite public allegations from the Republican members, “the select panel found no evidence of wrongdoing.” Summarizing their findings, the Democrats wrote that their report “further discredits the inflammatory Daleiden/CMP video allegations” and “documents the harm caused to life-saving research and women’s health care as well as the grave abuses committed by Panel Republicans over the course of this investigation.” The report concluded that the panel should be disbanded given that “Republicans increasingly abused congressional authority and put doctors and researchers at risk.” From the select panel Democrats’ December 2016 final report:

Adopting McCarthy-era tactics to demand names and bully witnesses, Panel Republicans have conducted an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care. Operating largely out of public view, they have abused congressional authority and made repeated inflammatory claims of criminal misconduct in continued reliance on the discredited Daleiden/CMP videos and without any actual evidence of wrongdoing.

Fifteen months and more than $1.5 million taxpayer dollars later, the American people deserve an accurate accounting of what the Select Panel has learned.

Our report makes 14 findings based on the evidence we obtained, and further discredits the inflammatory Daleiden/CMP video allegations. In general, the report finds:

  • Researchers use fetal tissue because it remains an irreplaceable resource for understanding fetal and human development and seeking treatments and cures for a vast array of conditions – including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and HIV/AIDS – that afflict millions.
  • Planned Parenthood affiliates do not profit and actually lose money when they facilitate fetal tissue donation, as do other clinics.
  • The key concern for providers is always patient safety, and they do not alter the timing or method of abortions or violate the “partial birth abortion ban” to
    enhance fetal tissue donation.
  • There is no evidence that tissue procurement organizations profit by charging and receiving more for fetal tissue than the costs that they incur for their services.

Our report also documents the harm caused to life-saving research and women’s health care as the grave abuses committed by Panel Republican over the course of this investigation.

In line with our findings, our report makes 5 recommendations. Because the fundamental goal of the Panel Democrats has always been to ensure that public policy is based on facts – not false, manufactured allegations – our recommendations seek to combat the anti-fact, antiresearch, and anti-health approach that Panel Republicans have taken.

[...]

We agreed to participate in this Panel because we believe that words matter, facts matter, and the truth matters. As Panel Republicans increasingly abused congressional authority and put doctors and researchers at risk, we called on the Panel to disband but continued in our efforts to make this investigation as fair, balanced, and fact-based as possible.

To that end, we are releasing this report to set the record straight for the American people. [Report of the Democratic Members, Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 12/5/16]

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.” In response to the panel’s June 1 letters to HHS officials, 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 the panelists’ decision to release the HHS 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 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.

[...]

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.

[...]

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]

Images provided by Sarah Wasko

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