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House Subcommittee's Data Request to Abortion Providers Raises Security, Privacy Concerns

On Thursday, six liberal members of a House subcommittee investigating abortion providers sent a letter to the committee chair expressing concern that a recent document request could endanger the privacy and security of abortion providers, CQ Roll Call's "218" reports (McPherson, "218," CQ Roll Call, 1/21).

Background

The subcommittee is the fourth House committee to investigate Planned Parenthood following the release of a series of misleading videostargeting 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/25/15).

Letter Details

The letter raises concerns about a recent request the committee made to a health care provider that requests "a list of any students, residents, or other medical personnel" who have provided abortion, pre- or postnatal infant care, and any communications between the health care provider and the government.

In the letter, the committee's liberal members wrote that the requests "appear to be a completely unjustified attack on women's healthcare ... Whether intended or not, these [document] requests would require a healthcare provider to turn over to Congress the personal medical information of any patient who happens to work for the federal government or any State." They said, "Since abortion became legal in this country, doctors and patients have been murdered, clinics have been vandalized, and ongoing threats have put doctors, scientists, and their families in fear for their safety," adding, "No body of Congress should target individuals or organizations as possible subjects of investigation -- and demand information that has grave privacy and security implications -- without a legitimate basis for doing so."

According to the lawmakers, some individuals and organizations asked to provide information had expressed concern about their privacy and safety.

Further, the lawmakers noted that they were not consulted about the document request and that the panel has not yet held its first organizational meeting. "These document requests raise troubling questions about the direction of the Panel's investigation," the letter read, adding that the previous inquiries into Planned Parenthood were "overwhelmingly one-sided and marred by inflammatory rhetoric and procedural irregularities."

The letter is addressed to Blackburn and is signed by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) ("218," CQ Roll Call, 1/21).