IT WAS clear from its start that the aim of the House’s perversely named Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was to put a stop to fetal-tissue research. Unfortunately, it appears the Republican-led panel may be succeeding. This is not because it has found any evidence — or even hint — of wrongdoing, but because its harassment and intimidation of doctors and researchers are having a chilling effect on their lifesaving medical work.
The panel was created after undercover videos purported to show that Planned Parenthood profited from the illegal sale of fetal tissue recovered from abortions. The allegations, the work of antiabortion activists, have been thoroughly discredited. Previous investigations by three House committee s found no misconduct, and 20 states conducted investigations that found nothing amiss or determined there was no credible evidence even to warrant investigation.
None of that deterred Republicans on a witch hunt. Under the chairmanship of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the panel has churned out subpoenas, intimidated witnesses, used inflammatory rhetoric and been reckless with information about individuals, which has resulted in concerns for their security. Its most recent outrage was voting to recommend criminal contempt charges against a small biotech company and its owner for allegedly failing to produce accounting documents and other information sought by the panel. Never mind that the company had been trying to cooperate, supplying more than 1,700 documents and offering individuals to testify.
Democrats called the effort to seek contempt charges illegitimate and walked out of the proceedings. According to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking minority-party member, the fear being sowed by the Republican majority is affecting critical medical research. Universities and researchers have reported difficulty in obtaining fetal tissue. One tissue procurement company is no longer doing business, due in part to the costs of having to answer congressional inquiries. Promising studies and critical trials, for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, have been halted or delayed due to the reduced availability of fetal tissue for research. Also at risk is research to deal with the Zika virus because, according to a leading association of research scientists, the use of donated fetal tissue has provided the best understanding of how that virus behaves in the body. So much for the ridiculous contention of Republicans that fetal-tissue research is “outdated” and “not mainstream science.”
It is time to let the doctors and scientists do their lifesaving work unimpeded by shortsighted political ideology.