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House lawmakers approve additional funding for panel targeting abortion providers; provider denounces investigation

The House Committee on Administration on Wednesday approved an additional $800,000 for a congressional panel targeting abortion providers, USA Today reports (Collins, USA Today, 11/16).

According to an aide to liberal lawmakers in the House, the committee's approval will advance the resolution to the House floor for consideration, likely scheduled for the week following Thanksgiving (Grimaldi, Rewire, 11/15).

Background

The subcommittee is the fourth House committee to investigate Planned Parenthood following the release of misleading videos targeting the organization. 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 subcommittee has issued several subpoenas requesting the names of fetal tissue researchers, spurring criticism from medical groups and liberal lawmakers who are concerned that the subpoenas could put researchers, students and medical professionals at risk of antiabortion-rights violence.

In May, Blackburn called on HHS to investigate multiple abortion clinics and StemExpress, which was targeted in the videos and in a report released by the subcommittee. StemExpress officials said the company had not violated any laws. In September, conservative members of the House panel advanced a resolution calling for the House to pursue contempt charges against the company and its CEO.

Liberal lawmakers in the House have repeatedly criticized the investigation and called for the subcommittee's disbandment (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/22).

Latest developments

According to USA Today, the $800,000 allocation comes in addition to the panel's previously approved $790,000 budget, putting the panel on track to receive more than $1.5 million by 2017. The panel is scheduled to submit its final report at the end of the year (USA Today, 11/16).

The additional funding comes amid the panel's expanding efforts to target abortion providers and fetal tissue researchers, Rewire reports. Earlier this month, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair of the panel, sent letters seeking "communications and documents" from a Colorado-based abortion provider regarding abortion care provided after 22 weeks of pregnancy (Rewire, 11/15).

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking liberal member on the panel, criticized the funding vote. "Instead of providing more funding for this divisive and dangerous witch hunt, Congress should shut down this panel and put an end to its shameful proceedings," she said (USA Today, 11/16).

Voicing safety concerns, targeted abortion provider lambasts panel

In related news, Warren Hern, the Colorado-based abortion provider targeted in the panel's investigation, on Wednesday lambasted the panel on its request for information about his patients and his work, Rewire reports.

In a letter to Blackburn, Hern criticized the panel's use of charged terminology to describe his work. He said the language used in the investigative letter "clearly displays your sectarian and punitive purposes, which are the opposite of any attempt to find truth, but rather to punish those you don't understand."

Hern also criticized the panel for endangering providers and patients through the investigation. "Your 'investigation' is legislative harassment that endangers our lives," he wrote.

According to Rewire, Hern has refused to comply with the panel's investigation, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment and doctor-patient confidentiality (Grimaldi, Rewire, 11/16).