UPDATE, May 26, 9:05 a.m.: The Democrats’ letter gained three signatories later on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) told Rewire. A total 181 out of 188 Democrats are now calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to disband the GOP-led investigation into fetal tissue and later abortion practices.
Nearly every Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to disband a panel relying on anti-choice allegations to investigate fetal tissue and later abortion practices.
“The onus is on you to put an end to this witch hunt,” the lawmakers, accounting for 178 of the House’s 188 Democrats, said in a letter to Ryan. “You cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the serious risks presented by the panel and still claim to fulfill your responsibilities as Speaker.”
The Democrats requested a written response from Ryan by June 6.
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“Speaker Ryan supports the Select Committee’s continued efforts to protect infant lives,” AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for Ryan, said in an email to Rewire.
The so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives escalated what Democratic lawmakers called a “pattern of reckless disregard for safety” in recent weeks when Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) shifted the inquiry’s focus from fetal tissue procurement and research to later abortion care.
A press release accompanying Blackburn’s batch of subpoenas named a later abortion provider and clinic. Coupled with the release’s “hyperbolic rhetoric and misleading allegations,” the Democrats charged that the latest move could endanger the provider, staff, and patients.
The subpoenaed clinic is already a target of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue’s president, and David Daleiden founded the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group behind the discredited smear campaign alleging that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations.
Blackburn still references the CMP videos as she issues subpoenas and holds hearings on those allegations. GOP hearing exhibits reportedly duplicated or nearly duplicated the “evidence” in the CMP attack videos.
It is not unthinkable for such rhetoric to draw newfound violence to the subpoenaed clinic, pro-choice advocates have charged. Blackburn and the panel’s Republicans repeatedly refer to “baby body parts,” which mirrors the language of the accused Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter, who called himself a “warrior for the babies.” An April National Abortion Federation report found unprecedented levels of anti-choice violence and threats, including a spike after the release of the CMP videos, against abortion providers in 2015.
Democrats implored Ryan “not to stand idly by while tax dollars are spent on a baseless investigation that endangers women, scientists, health providers, and others involved in women’s health care and biomedical research.”
The investigation is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. A senior House Democratic aide with knowledge of the chamber’s rules told Rewire that the panel operates from the budget of the full committee with jurisdiction—the House Energy and Commerce Committee—and from an additional House Administration Committee transfer of $300,000 last year. The panel’s Republicans received $200,000 and Democrats $100,000 under the House’s informal two-thirds/one-third funding split between the majority and minority parties.
“These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable Congressional behavior,” the Democrats said. “We disgrace ourselves by allowing this misconduct to continue.”