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Lawmakers voice concerns as House panel investigating Planned Parenthood holds first meeting

At the first meeting of a special House subcommittee targeting abortion care on Wednesday, liberal members raised concerns that the panel's actions could harm abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Jalonick, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/2).

Subcommittee details

The subcommittee is the fourth House committee to investigate Planned Parenthood following the release of a series of misleading videos targeting the organization. This specially created investigative panel is tasked with investigating an even broader target: providers of abortion care.

The subcommittee is allowed to probe, among other topics, federal funding for health care providers who also provide abortion services and providers' practices for abortions later in pregnancy. The resolution (H Res 461) that created the subcommittee gave it the ability to investigate "medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement" and "any other relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement."

According to Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the panel has subpoena powers that it will use in consultation with the House speaker, who also oversees the panel's budget and schedule. The panel will be dissolved 30 days after it submits a report based on the investigation's findings. The subcommittee could recommend changes to laws and regulations based on its findings.

Last month, the panel subpoenaed Southwestern Women's Clinic, which provides abortion care in Albuquerque; Stem Express, a California-based biomedical research company; and the University of New Mexico. Liberal members of the subcommittee, who previously expressed concern that the investigation could endanger the privacy and security of abortion providers, denounced the subpoenas and said they had not been consulted prior to their release (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/16).

Hearing details

On Wednesday, liberal members of the panel reiterated their concerns that the panel had not set rules to protect the privacy of names and information it gathers during the investigation. According to CQ News, conservative members of the panel during the hearing distributed files that included redacted emails and fetal tissue donation consent forms.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said, "The chair's staff has made it perfectly clear that any name turned over to the panel may be released to the public," adding, "There is no reason to create such a database. [Conservatives] may not like the fact that abortion is legal ... but that is no excuse for putting students, researchers, women, and their doctors at risk."

Further, Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) raised concern over "dangerous and sweeping demands for the names of individual researchers, graduate students, doctors and clinic personnel," asking how they could be pertinent to the panel's investigation (Zanona, CQ News [subscription required], 3/2). Nadler asked Blackburn why the names of medical researchers were needed by the committee, to which Blackburn responded, "No, sir, I am not going to answer that" (Sullivan, The Hill, 3/2).

In addition, Nadler asked why liberal staff had not been consulted or provided a report within one week of the panel having issued subpoenas. He said such notification is required under House Energy and Commerce Committee rules. "We have yet to receive any report on the issuance of these subpoenas including -- and this is critically important -- exactly what information entities are refusing to produce and how that information is pertinent to this investigation," he said. According to CQ News, Nadler's move to quash the subpoenas was blocked in an 8-6 vote (CQ News, 3/2).

Schakowsky reiterated the call to dissolve the committee, calling the investigation a "partisan and dangerous witch hunt." She noted, "The chair's abuse of her position as chair to compel this information is reminiscent of Senator Joe McCarthy's abusive tactics" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/2).