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Liberal lawmakers call on Speaker to ensure panel targeting abortion providers complies with House rules

Liberal members of a congressional panel targeting abortion providers asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a letter Wednesday to ensure that they can access information that conservative lawmakers on the panel have used to make claims of criminal misconduct, Rewire reports (Grimaldi, Rewire, 12/7).

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.

The panel is scheduled to submit its final report at the end of the year (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/2).

Liberal lawmakers in the House have repeatedly criticized the investigation and called for the subcommittee's disbandment. In a report issued Monday, the liberal members debunked claims made by conservative members and outlined how best to protect fetal tissue research, abortion providers and women seeking abortion care, among other recommendations (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/6).

Liberals ask Ryan to intervene

In the letter on Wednesday, liberal panel members wrote, "For the past year, you have allowed [conservative members of the panel] to run roughshod over House rules, notions of basic fairness, and common decency. As a result, they have conducted a shameful 'investigation' that dishonors and discredits the House." They added, "The point to intervene is long overdue" (Rewire, 12/7).

The liberal lawmakers explained that throughout the investigation, conservative panel members "have withheld documents and information" from liberal members. Such information "includes documents obtained pursuant to congressional subpoena or threat of subpoena, as well as documents from alleged 'confidential informants,'" the letter stated. According to the letter, conservative lawmakers on the panel used those documents for questioning witnesses, as well as for "the basis for their own allegation of criminal wrongdoing" and "for requesting criminal investigation by law enforcement officials in various states."

Further, the liberal members said when they have been able to review documents that had been withheld, they "have seen that these documents do not actually support [conservative lawmamkers'] allegations."

In addition, distinguishing between disclosure to the public and to Congress, the letter also refuted conservative lawmakers' claim that they cannot share the information because they have agreed to keep the information "confidential." The liberal members wrote, "These agreements – intended, presumably, to shield individuals from public disclosure -- cannot be used as a sword to violate House rules and withhold information from other Members of the Panel."

In conclusion, the liberal members asked Ryan to "take immediate steps to ensure that [liberal panel members] have access to documents and source information obtained by [conservative members], as House rules require" (Letter to Ryan, 12/7).

Separately, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the top liberal lawmaker on the panel, said conservative members "have made dangerous and unsubstantiated allegations based on withheld so-called 'evidence' that -- when revealed -- does not support their inflammatory claims." She continued, "This sham investigation is an embarrassment to the House and a disservice to the American people. Far worse, it endangers women, health care providers, and researchers and the life-saving work they perform" (Schakowsky press release, 12/7).