House GOP Marches Ahead With Fetal Tissue Research Investigations

Republicans, galvanized by a series of widely discredited smear videos, have launched a flurry of failed investigations into claims of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood.

Republicans, galvanized by a series of widely discredited smear videos, have launched a flurry of failed investigations into claims of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood. House Republicans / YouTube

U.S. House Republicans are plowing ahead with an investigation into unsubstantiated claims that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue, with plans this week to subpoena three organizations involved in fetal tissue research.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), chair of the GOP-formed Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, vowed Thursday in an online announcement to subpoena the biotech firm StemExpress, the University of New Mexico (UNM), and Albuquerque-based Southwestern Women’s Options for failing to “fully cooperate with document requests.”

GOP leaders in the House last summer established the panel, made up of eight Republicans and six Democrats, to investigate abortion providers and firms that “sell baby body parts.” The effort was part of a flurry of failed state and federal investigations into claims of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood after a series of covertly recorded videos was released by the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP has worked closely with GOP lawmakers to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. David Daleiden, the activist at the head of the smear campaign, has been indicted by a grand jury and has turned himself into authorities.

At least 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing despite these inflammatory claims. But the health-care provider isn’t Blackburn’s target this week.

StemExpress is a California firm that processes human fetal tissue for research, while the UNM Health Sciences Center conducts fetal tissue research to alleviate brain damage and blindness in premature babies. Southwestern Women’s Options is an abortion provider with a fetal tissue donation program that has come under Republican-led attacks.

“By failing to fully cooperate with our investigation, these organizations have compelled our panel to subpoena these documents in order to acquire information that is vital to the completion of our work,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Without these subpoenas, the American people and the House itself would be left to speculate about what is going on in the fetal tissue industry. We cannot leave questions unanswered.”

All three organizations said in statements that they are fully complying with the GOP-led investigation. Meanwhile, House Democrats on the panel blasted Blackburn in a letter Friday. Democrats charged that Blackburn has violated committee rules and excluded them from discussions, and urged her to abandon her plan to issue subpoenas or schedule a special meeting of the panel.

Democrats on the investigative panel say Blackburn is now seeking the names of doctors, medical students, and clinic personnel in what they describe as an “abusive and unjustifiable use of the chair’s unilateral subpoena authority.” They raised “serious concerns” that demanding the names of health-care providers and students “jeopardizes individual privacy and safety.”

UNM officials said they received a letter from the panel in early January notifying them of the investigation, and that Blackburn threatened to subpoena the university before the February 15 deadline to turn over documents.

UNM Health Sciences Center said in a statement that it has submitted information requested into 19 areas of research and medicine, and is complying fully: “Our staff has been diligently working to gather responsive documents and we intend to honor our agreement.”

“We have formally responded this afternoon to its information request, as we previously arranged,” said Jessica R. Hertz, an attorney for Southwestern Women’s Options, in a statement to the NM Political Report. “We will continue to be responsive to the panel’s inquiries and will do so in a manner that protects individuals’ safety and privacy.”

Officials from StemExpress, which ended its ties to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the attack videos’ release, said the company has turned over to the panel the same materials requested by investigations into Planned Parenthood by the House Committee on Government Reform, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The California company said in a statement that Blackburn now seeks “confidential client information and the identity of individual scientists and researchers.”

A StemExpress executive was allegedly subjected to death threats last year after its ties to Planned Parenthood became public, as Rewire reported. A Washington state man is facing federal charges for the alleged threats, which included, “Stop the death of innocents. Kill the killers,” and “StemExpress your lives don’t matter nearly as much as your deaths do.”

Republican-led staff on the investigative panel have issued more than 30 information requests overall, according to an announcement of the subpoenas.

Democrats on the panel, citing the recent rise in anti-choice violence, said Blackburn’s subpoena actions are “appalling.”

“Just over two months ago—on the day after Thanksgiving—an anti-abortion extremist murdered three people, injured nine others, and terrorized providers and patients at an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs. In December, another extremist was indicted for offering cash to kill an executive at one of the organizations that you are now threatening to subpoena. In that case, an anti-abortion extremist posted online that the “[company executive] should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building with a note attached.” It is appalling that, in this atmosphere, you have elected to use your unilateral subpoena authority in a manner that may increase the risk for healthcare providers, clinic personnel, medical students, and researchers.”

The letter is signed by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).