House Democrats Say Republicans May Be Leaking Information To Anti-Abortion Groups

by LAUREL RAYMOND –

Marsha Blackburn

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

In March, the House investigation into Planned Parenthood took a dark turn, subpoenaing a list of names of doctors and researchers involved in fetal tissue research. At the time, Democrats on the committee likened it to a witch hunt.

Now, Democrats are calling out for her “reckless disregard” for the privacy and safety of those medical professionals — following the public, unredacted release of the some of their names.

“This Panel has shown a reckless disregard for protecting private information and now a troubling possibility has come to light,” Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky said in a press statement. “Inexplicably, anti-abortion activists have learned of confidential information provided to the Panel — raising the specter that the Republicans may be funneling confidential information back to those individuals and groups.”

Democrats on the committee have long warned that the investigation was ignoring important rules around privacy and putting doctors and researchers at risk — or, in the words of Rep. Jarrod Nadler (D-NY), “effectively painting targets on the backs of scientists and researchers for no particular reason other than the Republicans’ desire for a culture war.”

Now it appears that risk has become a reality.

Last week, Blackburn sent two public letters to the Obama administration that contained the unredacted names and contact information of researchers at the biomedical company StemExpress, university and hospital researchers, and Planned Parenthood staffers. The unredacted letters were also posted on the select panel’s website. In an interview with Rewire, a representative for Blackburn said that the release was staff error.

In a letter sent to Blackburn, House Democrats raise concerns that Republicans on the panel may be feeding sensitive information back to anti-abortion groups who wish to do harm to members of the reproductive rights community. They point to the public release of the name of a doctor who has previously been threatened by anti-abortion groups, along with the specific information about when he will be required to appear before the panel.

“Assurances that you take seriously individual privacy and security concerns are insufficient,” the letter reads. “You reneged on promises to protect the individual privacy and security of a deposition witness. Just last week, Panel Republicans leaked letters to FOX News and posted documents on your website that contained names, contact information, and other personally identifiable information of doctors and researchers. You publicly advertised the date, location, and time that a doctor who lives in fear for his life would be compelled to appear before the Panel.”

Outside of Congress, scientists have warned that targeting fetal tissue research — and the researchers who use it — puts life-saving research at risk. Fetal tissue research is instrumental to developing cures to diseases like Alzheimers, multiple schlerosis, and could be essential to developing a vaccine to the rapidly-spreading Zika virus, which poses a serious risk to pregnant women.

Nonetheless, the committee is moving forward with more subpoenas to health care providers, researchers, patients, and E.M.T first responders — without asking for voluntary compliance first. In an op-ed published Tuesday, Reps. Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) call this a “particularly unique form of congressional harassment.”

At first, some schools and organizations blacked out the names of researchers in documents provided to the committee to protect their researchers’ safety — but the more recent subpoenas issued by the committee didn’t allow for that security measure.

StemExpress, targeted in the most recent subpoena request, has received hundreds of threats since the now-debunked allegations that Planned Parenthood was profiting from donated fetal tissue surfaced.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress