Dr. Warren Hern, a Colorado physician who provides abortions in the third trimester has detailed via STAT news that Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives wants him to provide all of his medical records from women getting abortions at or after 22 weeks to prove he is not illegally selling fetal tissue. Read Dr. Hern’s response in its entirety here. He pulls no punches and accuses her, rightfully so, of “antiabortion pornography.”
Blackburn can accept his reply, ask for different information, or she can subpoena him. There are serious issues with not responding to subpoenas, but patient privacy must be paramount. Medical records from Dr. Tiller’s practice “somehow” made it to antiabortion groups and there is no reason to believe that Dr. Hern’s patients would be any safer. When Dr. Tiller was investigated in Kansas some of his medical records were “accidentally” released. There are also safety concerns with providing employees names and addresses. StemExpress, the company also targeted by the panel, has handed over a multitude of documents, but has steadfastly protected its employees.
StemExpress and Hern are not the only ones targeted by the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Federal Marshals showed up at the apartment of a surgical resident from Vanderbilt, Dr. Gu, who was doing research with fetal tissue. Vanderbilt offered him no help at all, which is disgusting. They wouldn’t even let him use their facility to discuss his situation with NPR.
While it’s not clear whether either StemExpress or Dr. Hern will be held in contempt I am concerned more is coming before the year is out. The panel is supposed to conclude at the end of the year, but last week the House Committee on Administration voted to approve an additional $800,000. Why do they need an additional $800,000 with six weeks to go? By the way, with the $790,000 they have already spent they are on track to spent over $1.5 million on targeting abortion providers and researchers based on falsified information. That money could have paid for $1,875 IUDs and thus prevented about 950 abortions (50% of unplanned pregnancies end up in abortion).
Blackburn and the committee hasn’t let the fact that a Texas Grand Jury found no evidence of a crime committed by Planned Parenthood and actually indicted those who made the video stop them. This proves facts do not matter and that is terrifying. Let that sink in. There can be proof you have committed no crime but that doesn’t matter. The Democrats can strongly voice opinions, but they aren’t the majority.
While we can certainly expect creative new targeted regulation against abortions providers and possible even a direct challenge on Roe with the new administration these investigative panels offer another avenue of anti-choice attack. Why bother with the courts when you can simply investigate and investigate and investigate without merit? This approach has all the benefits of TRAP laws by making things harder for abortion providers and clinics, but none of the legal hassle for an anti-choice government. If you are an anti-choice legislator and dream up a new anti-choice bill and get it signed into law it will be challenged and there is a chance it will be put on hold by the lower courts. Groaning up through the legal system takes time and is no guarantee (well, not yet anyway) that you will prevail. Grand Juries are also not reliable anti-choice tools not even in red states; a Texas Grand failed to deliver indictments for Planned Parenthood and a Kansas Grand Jury failed to indict Dr. Tiller. However, investigative panels are reliable weapons if you have the majority. Investigative panels can target providers and researchers with expensive defenses never mind the fear of Federal Marshals showing up at your house or the fear you might lose your job because your employer just doesn’t want the hassle or the attention. For the government this is a relatively inexpensive way to harass providers and it could be never ending.
This additional request for money is very concerning in the short term. Who knows, maybe the panel is considering sending letters of investigation to every hospital and clinic in the country that offers abortions. It wouldn’t surprise me. They may be doing enough busy work to try to show that have enough reason to get the panel reconvened in the New Year. Look for more of these kinds of panels in the future, or worse. Our new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is extremely anti-choice and he can appoint a special prosecutor for Planned Parenthood or anyone else really.
When facts don’t matter the sky is really the limit and an investigative panel become nothing more than inquisitions.