Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives panel examining fetal tissue practices will hold their own hearings, and issue their own report, as part of a strategy to counter the Republican-led investigation based on a widely discredited smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.
The hearings will give the Democrats an opportunity to call up witnesses who can draw attention to abortion access, scientific research, and the climate of increased anti-choice violence, said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the ranking member of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, during an interview with Rewire.
Under regular order, Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), as part of the GOP’s House majority, not only plans the panel’s hearings, but also gets more witnesses than the minority party.
Schakowsky alleged that consultations from Blackburn have been limited to notifications during votes on the House floor. Schakowsky and the other panel Democrats—Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado, Jackie Speier of California, Suzan DelBene of Washington, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, and Jerrold Nadler of New York—rebuked Blackburn this month over inadequate information sharing and the use of discredited evidence.
The Democrats are planning their hearings to start in the next month or so, Schakowsky said. A Democrat-led report is also in the works. The six minority members this month launched their own website, which includes a portal for patients and abortion care providers to share their stories about the impact of access to reproductive health care, and the lack thereof.
The next Republican-led hearing is scheduled for April 20. Schakowsky and her fellow Democrats enlisted three of the eight witnesses, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), to testify at the hearing on fetal tissue “pricing.” The panel’s first hearing, held in March, showcased testimony from Republican-enlisted witnesses comparing fetal tissue research with Nazi experimentation.
“I felt really positive about the first hearing and our ability to message on that hearing and to question what the Republicans are doing in terms of all of this,” Schakowsky said. “I’m just furious about these data requests and subpoenas that they’ve issued.”
The accelerated counter-strategy comes as the panel’s Republicans continue to issue subpoenas based on anti-choice allegations, including the deceptive Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that claim Planned Parenthood makes a profit from fetal tissue donation. “We believe that they are working closely with the anti-abortion activists in developing their plan and their strategy,” Schakowsky said.
The ongoing felony proceedings and state investigation into David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist behind the CMP videos, have not factored into the Democrats’ strategy. “That’s happening on a separate track,” Schakowsky said.
Schakowsky indicated the Democrats’ focus will be on the benefits of fetal tissue research, access to reproductive health care, steps to improve infant health, and the safety of patients and providers.
“We’re obviously concerned about making sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive rights,” Schakowsky said. “We are absolutely committed to making sure that patients and providers and researchers are not targeted through either harassment or violence.”
Public support for legal abortion care in the United States is at a two-year high, according to a December 2015 Associated Press-GfK poll that showed increased support for the procedure among both self-identified Democrats and Republicans. The same poll found that more Americans have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood than unfavorable—45 percent to 30 percent, respectively. About 25 percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough information to decide either way.
The recent polling results, coupled with what Schakowsky called “the misogyny and the anti-abortion language” from the GOP presidential candidates, have provided Democrats with a solid foundation for their counter-strategy.
“We believe that we really have the political high ground,” she said.