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The 'House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives'—A Steaming Pile of Shit?

We spoke to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who says that the ongoing investigation into fetal tissue research is a congressional overstep and an assault on women's rights.
Representative Marsha Blackburn, chair of the House Select Investigative Panel. Photo via Wikipedia

For months, House Republicans have been investigating abortion providers as well as medical researchers following the release of "undercover" videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. We all know by now that those videos were the heavily edited work of the recently-indicted anti-abortion extremist David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress, an organization he founded. But it appears that the Republicans missed the memo.


Lead by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Republican members of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives continue to issue subpoenas to fetal tissue researchers and abortion clinics under the guise of objectively examining the content of Daleiden's videos. Democrats on the panel, conversely, have had enough of the assault on women's rights. Last week, 181 House Democrats signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan calling for the end of the congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) underscored their points by standing in front of Congress to list off the top ten abuses that the Republican's investigation has perpetrated. According to her, those include harming scientific research, putting doctors and even medical students in danger by naming them in press releases about the investigation, abusing congressional subpoena power, and suppressing facts.

"The Republicans call it the House Select Investigative Panel to Protect Infant Lives, but we call it the House Select Investigative Panel to Hurt Women's Health," Schakowsky tells Broadly over the phone. "This is a really dangerous witch hunt that they are engaged in. It will absolutely have no positive outcome. The whole investigation is premised on a lie."

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As the ranking member on the committee, Congresswoman Schakowsky has been holding court for the Democrats; she has been attempting to keep the Republicans in check. While the Democrats objected to the very creation of the panel—all but two voted against it—Schakowsky says it was important for the party to be involved. "We made a decision that we needed to participate in order to protect women's lives and protect scientific research. It was better to be in the room than not be in the room, because [the Republicans] were going to go through with this anyway," she says. Throughout our conversation, however, Schakowsky mentioned multiple instances that suggest the Republicans are still trying their best to keep Democrats in the dark about both petty and large details.


Republicans on the panel purport that they want to "get the facts" about fetal tissue procurement. In a pithy response to the Democrat's criticism, Blackburn told the press, "The question everyone should be asking is why are Democrats so afraid of letting the truth come out." But Schakowsky explains that the Republicans have purposefully—or through willful ignorance—presented biased documents at hearings. "We have been able to call into question evidence the Republicans have produced, some of which has been created by anti-abortion extremist groups," like the Center for Medical Progress.

At a hearing in April, it was reported that Republicans on the panel presented documents that they said proved a tissue research company was making a profit from fetal tissue. Democrats challenged this and asked Republicans to withdraw the documents under suspicion that they were misleading and of dubious origin.

The panel is also putting abortion providers' lives in danger. Republicans on the panel have the power to issue subpoenas unilaterally. (Democrats do not.) And Schakowsky says that they oftendo so before asking hospitals and researchers if they would voluntarily cooperate.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Republicans asked health centers to list the names of doctors, medical students, and even interns who have been involved in abortions, "with no guarantee that those names will be kept confidential," Schakowsky says. And when she specifically asked Blackburn at a hearing why calling out doctors and students by name—and leaving them vulnerable to personal attacks—was necessary, she did not receive an answer.


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More recently, an abortion provider under investigation was named in a press release. "This was so inflammatory. They accused him of aborting living babies, essentially suggesting that he committed murder, in a press release that said they were just beginning their investigation," she says. "In a climate where anti-abortion extremists are attacking clinics, this is very, very dangerous." Schakowsky says that the doctor who was named has been a previous victim of anti-abortion-related violence.

The less-than-fruitful investigation is also delaying important work that involves fetal tissue, which was made legal in 1993 with bipartisan support. "It's so important to do fetal tissue research, especially now with the threat of Zika virus. We called one witness to panel who has been working on promising research regarding multiple sclerosis. They said their research can't continue because of the supply of fetal tissue has been so diminished because of this investigation."

As Schakowsky notes, the existence of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has fueled the adoption of increasingly ridiculous and harmful anti-abortion laws at the state level. "This panel is truly designed to undermine women's legal right to healthcare," Schakowsky says.

Read more: My Life as an Abortion Provider in an Age of Terror

The question now is: When will it end? "I don't know," Schakowsky says. "We have asked multiple times for an agenda. The things that they have said suggest that this panel will end at the end of the year, but that has not ever been confirmed to us."