House Republicans voted Wednesday to create a special committee to investigate a wide range of practices related to abortions and fetal tissue procurement in the latest and perhaps most lasting consequence of an activist campaign targeting Planned Parenthood.
The new 13-member select Energy and Commerce subcommittee would continue the work of three House panels that have investigated Planned Parenthood since July, when antiabortion activists first released undercover videos depicting some of the group’s executives discussing its handling of tissue harvested from aborted fetuses for research.
But the committee of eight Republicans and five Democrats would have a broad charge to investigate abortion practices and new resources to do so, including the power to subpoena documents and testimony.
“The intent is to bring all of the work . . . under one panel,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday. “The thought is that this will be a more expedient way to handle this, a more efficient way, and allow us to determine if there was any law broken and if there is any need for further investigation.”
The 242-to-184 vote was almost entirely along party lines. Two Democrats, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, and one Republican, David Jolly of Florida, broke ranks.
The activist group that produced the videos, the Center for Medical Progress, and a wide range of conservative political voices say the clips provide evidence of wrongdoing, including breaches of federal law governing fetal tissue transactions. Planned Parenthood has strongly denied breaking any laws and decried the appointment of the special committee as a ploy.
“It’s become very obvious that this is all part of a political agenda to make abortion illegal in this country,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “Despite the clear political agenda behind these investigations, we continue to cooperate fully with all of them.”
The special committee is the second that Republicans have appointed since seizing control of the House in 2011. A select committee was appointed last year to investigate the 2012 attacks on American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, and it continues its work amid increasingly loud protests from Democrats who say the investigation has been overly politicized.
Those outcries have reached a fever pitch in the past week, since House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made comments in a Fox News Channel interview suggesting that the panel had been appointed to undermine Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign. Democrats have seized on McCarthy’s comments to paint both special committees as political witch hunts.
Democrats also have pointed to comments made by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who was asked during a CNN interview last week whether Planned Parenthood had broken any laws. “No, I’m not suggesting that they broke the law,” said Chaffetz, who presided over a five-hour hearing last week that featured testimony from Planned Parenthood chief executive Cecile Richards.
Committee Democrats sent Chaffetz a stern letter Tuesday, complaining that the majority had allowed David Daleiden, the mastermind behind the videos, to stonewall the committee, while Richards appeared in person to answer questions at a hearing and her group has handed over 20,000 documents.
“Continuing to shield Mr. Daleiden and his organization from accountability creates the unfortunate impression that the Committee is more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood than in an even-handed investigation of potential violations of the law,” said the letter, signed by 17 members.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, compared the Republican committees to the early 1950s investigations of alleged communist infiltration. “We may be going back to some of those bad old days,” he said in an interview.
“No one is saying don’t do investigative hearings, but do them when there’s a basis for them,” Becerra said. “I defy anyone to explain what the basis for the Planned Parenthood assault is. What’s the basis for a congressional investigation when even [Chaffetz] says he is not suggesting there was any violation of law?”
The words “Planned Parenthood” do not appear in the resolution establishing the special committee. Its jurisdiction is considerably broader, encompassing “medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement” and “any other relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement.”
It also permits the committee to probe the subject of federal funding for abortion providers generally, the practices of providers who perform abortions in the second and third trimesters, and “medical procedures for the care of a child born alive as a result of an attempted abortion.”
The committee is also empowered to recommend changes in laws or regulations based on its findings.
“This is not simply an investigation of Planned Parenthood,” Blackburn said. “This will be a broad-based, information-gathering, fact-finding mission to answer questions about how we treat and protect life in this country.”
Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.