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Engel to GOP: Stop the McCarthy-esque Attacks on Women's Health Care

Engel to GOP: Stop the McCarthy-esque Attacks on Women’s Health Care

Washington D.C.-Congressman Eliot L. Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, called on House GOP leadership to disband the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Select Investigative Panel, decrying its “series of aggressive tactics” that have put women and members of the medical community in danger.

In a letter signed by 178 House Democrats, Engel denounced the “reckless” behavior of the Panel, which was created by House Republicans last year in response to contrived allegations of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. The letter cites the Panel’s repeated efforts to intimidate medical researchers, doctors and women, “perhaps only matched by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.”

“Throughout this Congress, the House Republican Majority has been relentless in its determination to reignite the same tired battles of years past to restrict women’s control over their own health and bodies,” Congressman Engel said. “Perhaps the best symbol of this vendetta is the Select Panel. This so-called investigation has not been impartial or fact-based. The Republican’s disdain for the facts – and for women and their doctors – is putting researchers, doctors, and women at risk and threatening the life-saving research and health care that these individuals provide.

“We have to acknowledge that the incendiary rhetoric directed at Planned Parenthood in recent months, based on entirely discredited videos, clearly stoked the flames of violence in Colorado Springs last November. It's time for those who peddle these false allegations to stop and consider just how destructive their tactics have been. 

“We’ve seen too many instances of women’s health being used as a political football – enough is enough.”

 

Text of the letter can be found below:

 

The Honorable Paul D. Ryan

Speaker

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Speaker Ryan,

On February 2, 2016, the House Pro-Choice Caucus sent you a letter urging you to disband the Select Investigative Panel (the Panel).  Democratic members of the Panel and numerous leaders in both the House and Senate joined the Pro-Choice Caucus in this call.  Today, because of continued abuses which jeopardize the integrity of the House and the safety of Americans, the undersigned House Democrats write once again to respectfully ask you to put a stop to this behavior and disband the Panel.

While the Panel’s investigation has never been fair or fact-based, its pattern of reckless disregard for safety has escalated over the past week.  From the beginning, Chair Marsha Blackburn has used her unilateral subpoena power to intimidate scientific researchers, doctors, clinics, health care providers, universities, and other entities.  On May 11, 2016, the majority reached a new low when it posted a press release identifying a doctor and his clinic by name. The press release’s hyperbolic rhetoric and misleading allegations pose a real danger to the doctor, the staff at the clinic, and the patients of the named clinic.  These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable Congressional behavior.  We disgrace ourselves by allowing this misconduct to continue.

The most recent subpoenas are only the latest in a series of aggressive tactics that constitute a virtually unprecedented abuse of Congressional power, perhaps only matched by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.  To this day, the Panel still lacks credible evidence to support its case that any federal laws were broken.  Yet the Chair and majority staff continue to harass individuals, researchers, clinics, and health care facilities, issuing a total of 35 subpoenas so far, often without reaching out to the subject of the subpoena to ask for voluntary compliance first or without giving subjects sufficient time to comply.  Congress simply has no business “prosecuting” these unfounded allegations.

The danger posed by the Panel is real and serious.  There is a long and undeniable history of violence against women's health care clinics, physicians, and patients.  As recently as November 27, 2015, a gunman murdered three people and injured nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, repeating the “baby parts” rhetoric pushed by the very members of Congress leading this investigation.  Despite this horrific event, the same inflammatory language has been used repeatedly during Panel hearings, in communications with the press, and in other documents.   The majority has also refused to take necessary steps to protect the names and privacy of those subject to the investigation.  Indeed, some names and targets have already been publicly disclosed.  We are deeply disappointed by the majority’s decision to continue down this road despite these well-known risks.

As Speaker of the House, you have a unique role and special responsibilities in our government.  We – as well as counsel for witnesses called before the Panel -- have tried numerous times to express our concerns and see to it that they are addressed.  These pleas have been met with silence.  The onus is on you to put an end to this witch hunt.  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.  We implore you 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.  We respectfully ask that you respond to this letter in writing no later than June 6, 2016.