Democrats keep asking to disband the select investigative panel on fetal tissue research.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 7, 2016 4:12 PM
Days after a gunman entered a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people, a sign stands south of the clinic as police gather evidence.
In recent months, Democratic members of the House have sent five letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for him to disband the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, the committee formed by Ryan's predecessor, John Boehner, in the wake of the since-discredited sting videos released last summer purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff negotiating the sale of fetal tissue, a practice that is illegal.
Despite revelations that the videos were deceptively and selectively edited, the felony indictment of the videos' creator, and 4 congressional and 12 state-level investigations that have found no wrongdoing and no evidence of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood, this committee has pressed on, conducting hearings and issuing subpoenas for witnesses, often without first asking them to comply voluntarily.
Last week, committee chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) sent two letters to the Obama administration, asking it to investigate new charges of federal health privacy law violations by two Planned Parenthood affiliates and the biomedical company StemExpress (fetal tissue research represents less than 1 percent of the company's business), based on evidence provided by "confidential informants." The identities of several researchers and clinic staffers were unredacted in the documents that were made public in attachments forwarded to the Obama administration along with Blackburn's letters, and that were also posted on the select panel's website.
The unredacted names included university and hospital researchers and employees of both StemExpress and Planned Parenthood, raising major concern among Democratic members of the House. "The latest leak from Chair Blackburn's runaway investigation is further evidence that this panel should be brought to an end," a spokesperson for the panel's Democratic lawmakers told the reproductive health news site Rewire.
Democrats have repeatedly raised the issue of researcher and clinic staff safety, particularly after the November 2015 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, where a gunman killed three people and injured nine others. The select panel has issued dozens of subpoenas that could compel various labs to release the names of graduate students, lab technicians, and more, leading to widespread security concerns in the medical community. In May, the committee subpoenaed and published the name of an abortion provider who has long been a target of threats and attacks.
After Rep. Blackburn's two letters last week, Mike Reynard, a spokesman for Blackburn's office, told Rewire that the release of names had simply been an accident. "The chairman has been very clear about redacting the names and staff just made a mistake," Reynard told Rewire. The links on the select panel's website have since been updated with the redacted versions of documents.
"The Select Panel is becoming more reckless and irresponsible by the day," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) a senior Democratic member of the select panel, in an emailed statement to Mother Jones. "It should have been disbanded long ago. Now this disclosure, deliberate or not, is further endangering the lives of women, researchers and health workers. Too often we've seen clinics and other facilities struck by violence; why place the people there at risk like this? It's irresponsible in the extreme."
The high court left intact a Washington state regulation requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense emergency contraception.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 2, 2016 6:00 AM
Update (6/28/2016): The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will not review the pharmacists' appeal. As a result, the high court leaves intact Washington state regulations requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense emergency contraception.
Today the Supreme Court will consider whether to take on another case at the intersection of religion and reproductive rights. In Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, a group of religious pharmacists are suing the state of Washington over a law that requires them to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception.
The Stormans family, which owns Ralph's Thriftway, a grocery store with a small pharmacy, and two individual pharmacists who work elsewhere have religious objections to the use of emergency contraceptives, which they believe act as abortifacients. Until July 2007, pharmacists in the state of Washington could make conscience-based referrals if they objected to a drug for religious reasons. This meant they could refuse to stock or dispense the product and refer patients to another pharmacy that would sell the medication—an informal practice that was legal but not required for pharmacists.
In 2007, after receiving consumer complaints for years that some pharmacies were refusing to dispense certain drugs, particularly emergency contraceptives, the state's pharmacy board passed regulations that set out a specific and limited list of reasons that would allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense a drug—for example if a drug is temporarily out of stock or if a prescription seems fraudulent. The new rules presented a compromise: They required pharmacies to stock contraception, doing away with the practice of referring patients elsewhere, but also allowed pharmacists with religious objections to give the prescription to a colleague at their store to be filled.
After the first round of appeals on this case, the pharmacy board agreed to take a stab at amending the new rules. But it decided against any amendments "after receiving additional public testimony highlighting the risks refusals pose to patients' timely access to medications," according to court filings. That testimony included a man who was refused HIV medication due to his perceived homosexuality, and a rape survivor who was forced to go to multiple pharmacies over several days before she could obtain the morning-after pill. (The pill's efficacy in preventing pregnancy diminishes as time passes.)
The Stormans family, who are devout Catholics, brought the lawsuit challenging the new regulations in 2007, the year they passed, on the grounds that they violate the Free Exercise Clause, which guarantees the right to freely practice religion. The other two pharmacist plaintiffs joined the lawsuit after one lost her job and the other was threatened with the loss of hers, according to the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in this case. The suit has been through two rounds of appeals, and in February 2012 a district court sided with the plaintiffs, saying these new regulations unfairly targeted conscientious objections while allowing exceptions for other reasons. In 2015, a 9th Circuit panel of judges unanimously reversed that decision and upheld the regulations, noting that they are neutrally applied to all pharmacists, and don't specifically target those with religious motivations.
The high court is weighing whether to take this case on the heels of Zubik v. Burwell, another case where religious freedom and contraceptive access were central. In that case, a group of religious employers, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, challenged the opt-out process for contraceptive coverage that is set out in Obamacare. Last month, the high court punted on reviewing the merits of the religious freedom arguments in the case, instead sending it back to the lower courts for further review. It seems to be putting off a decision on taking this case as well—they've rescheduled their review of it three times.
Importantly, if the high court were to take this case, they could end up weighing in on state-level protections for religious objections and contraception—the ruling in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, which exempted certain corporate employers from laws they object to on religious grounds, applied only to federal statutes. But SCOTUSblog predicts, it's unlikely the court will take this case while they are still down a justice.
They're concerned that Republicans are putting abortion providers at risk.
May 25, 2016 3:59 PM
In one of his final acts as speaker of the House last October, John Boehner helped form the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives to explore allegations that abortion clinics are illegally selling fetal tissue for a profit.On Tuesday, 181 House Democrats sent a letter to Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan, asking him to break from his fellow Republicans and demand an end to an investigation that the panel's Democratic members have called, at various points, a "farce," "witch hunt," "kangaroo court," and something that "belongs in a bad episode of House of Cards."
"To this day, the panel still lacks credible evidence to support its case that any federal laws were broken," the Democrats wrote to Ryan. "Yet the Chair and majority staff continue to harass individuals, researchers, clinics, and health care facilities…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."
Since its creation, the investigative panel has held two public hearings, and at each one the Democrats repeatedly accused the Republican members of violating House rules.At the first, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked the panel's chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), to explain why she had issued wide-ranging subpoenas for the names of researchers, grad students, lab technicians, and others who were involved in fetal tissue research—a move that abortion advocates worried could endanger the lives of these scientists and their employees. Blackburn declined to elaborate. At the second hearing, in April, Blackburn repeatedlyrefused to provide clear sources for a set of provocative exhibitsthat included a draft contract between a procurement company and an abortion clinic and several charts implying the growing profitability of fetal tissue procurement. She said only that these items came from the "investigatory work" of the panel.
The panel has also cited as evidence widely discredited material from the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group established by activist David Daleiden, who was recently indicted by a Texas grand jury for his work on secretly recorded and deceptively edited anti-Planned Parenthood videos released last summer.
This is the fifth letter from Democrats to Ryan in recent months about the panel, airing concerns about the panel's investigative practices or asking that it be disbanded entirely. Each of those letters, they wrote, "has been met with silence." Three of the previous letters were signed only by the six Democratic members who sit on the select investigative panel; the fourth was signed by 98 House Democrats. This time, the Democrats have upped the ante, getting 181 of 188 House Democrats to sign on to Tuesday's letter, and requesting a response from Ryan in writing.
Earlier this month, the Democratic members of the panel held a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to draw attention to their concerns. Pelosi referred to the panel as "the Committee to Attack Women's Health" and accused it of "abuses that have not been seen on Capitol Hill since the days of Joseph McCarthy."
Pelosi and other Democrats highlighted issues that were laid out in aMay 12 letter to Ryan, written by the Democratic members of the select panel. They wrote that the committee's process for issuing subpoenas to fetal tissue researchers and abortion rights advocates—one of the most aggressive investigative tactics available to Congress—has been deceptive. In early May, for example, the panel issued 19 subpoenas; 17 of those were sent to individuals or groups who had never been asked to comply voluntarily. The other two recipients had already responded to a previous information request and hadn't been informed of any noncompliance. The preemptive subpoenas have allowed Blackburn to make "false public claims" of mass disobedience by researchers and imply that abortion rights advocates have something to hide, the Democratic representatives wrote.
The Democratic members have also repeatedly said the panel's aggressive investigative tactics put fetal tissue researchers and abortion providers at grave risk. "The danger posed by the Panel is real and serious," they wrote yesterday. "There is a long and undeniable history of violence against women's health care clinics, physicians, and patients." They cited the November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, where a gunman killed three people and injured nine. They also said the panel disregarded the safety of an abortion provider when it published a press release on May 11 naming him as a "late-term abortionist" who is under investigation by the committee.The doctor haslong been a target of threats and attacks, including a 1991 fire that destroyed his family farm and much of its livestock. "These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable Congressional behavior," wrote the House Democrats.
The Democratic members of the committee believe the panel's disregard for safety is one-sided, given that it has a whistleblower portal on its website promising confidentiality to anyone looking to provide information. "Apparently, Republicans are willing to protect individuals who provide information that might support their preferred partisan narratives, but are denying this same protection to individuals who perform life-saving research and health care," wrote the members in their May 12 letter.
Ryan doesn't seem to be budging in his support for this investigation. "Speaker Ryan supports the Select Committee’s continued efforts to protect infant lives," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told the Washington Post on Tuesday.
Last week, Time reported that Frank Amedia, a televangelist, had recently organized a meeting between Donald Trump and Hispanic evangelicals. The magazine noted that Amedia was the Trump campaign's new "liaison on Christian policy." What the story did not mention was that Amedia is a faith-healing pastor and self-described "apostle" and "prophet" who claims to have healed cancer with the power of prayer, calls AIDS the result of "unnatural sex," and says he once stopped a tsunami by appealing to Jesus.
Amedia is a former Jew who says he found God through an encounter with Jesus in 1980. He runs the Ohio-based Touch Heaven Ministries, an international ministry with affiliated churches in Africa and Asia, and he is a frequent presence on Christian TV networks. He appears daily on the evangelical Daystar network and occasionally on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the North American version of Isaac TV, a Pakistan-based evangelical network that airs Christian broadcasting across several Asian countries.
Since becoming the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president, Trump has worked to shore up support among social conservatives and evangelicals who are likely to be skeptical of the twice-divorced real estate mogul who once held pro-choice views. Amedia's new role fits with the Trump campaign's efforts to reach out to the Christian right. But the pastor's past isn't without blemishes: District court dockets and media reports show that in 2001, Amedia admitted in court to having participated in an effort to bribe an Ohio prosecutor to drop a case against a car-dealer friend who had been charged in an odometer rollback scheme. The bribery plan failed, and the car dealer was convicted. Amedia received immunity for his testimony against the dealer.
Amedia and the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Amedia claims to be an apostle—a messenger of the word of Jesus on Earth—and in a 2012 interview on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, he claimed to have stopped the 2011 tsunami in Japan from hitting the coast of a Hawaiian island that his daughter happened to be visiting. "I stood at the edge of my bed and I said, 'In the name of Jesus, I declare that tsunami to stop now,'" he recalled. "It was seen by 400 people on a cliff. It was on YouTube. It was actually on the news that that tsunami stopped 200 feet off of shore." Here's the clip of Amedia's claim, first found by Right Wing Watch:
In an undated Isaac TV broadcast, Amedia engages in faith healing, trying to assist people with jaw problems, bleeding teeth and gums, ringing in their ears, tongue cancer, and parched lips. None of those healed are seen on screen. In the same broadcast, Amedia says AIDS is caused by "unnatural sex." He adds, "We understand that many of the diseases that we receive is because of exposure that we have to things that we should not be exposed to, lifestyles that are unhealthy."
In 2010, Amedia traveled to Haiti, where his ministry was providing aid and food to earthquake survivors. Amedia was interviewed at the time for an Associated Press story about recent clashes between missionaries like himself and Haitian practitioners of voodoo. Amedia told the AP that he would consider cutting off food aid to Haitians if they did not give up voodoo, because "we wouldn't want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel."
She said the "life" exception provided in the bill was "vague."
Hannah LevintovaMay 20, 2016 5:35 PM
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin
On Friday afternoon, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill that would have made performing most abortions a felony in the state. On Thursday, the Oklahoma Senate passed the bill 33-12, with no floor debate. During the voting process, Sen. Ervin Yen, the sole state senator who is a physician, called the measure "insane."
As Mother Jonesreported in April, the bill would make performing abortions, except for those intended to save a woman's life, a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison.
If it is discovered that they have provided an abortion, doctors would be stripped of their state medical licenses. The only exception to these rules would be abortions to save the life of the mother, and the bill makes clear that the threat of suicide by a woman seeking an abortion doesn't fulfill the "life" requirement.
Had the bill been signed into law by Gov. Fallin, it would most certainly have led to a protracted and costly legal battle over the bill's constitutionality, since its near total ban on abortion goes against Roe v. Wade—the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. However, the prospect of litigation is not what Fallin took issue with when rejecting the bill. Instead, she said that the "life" exception provided in the bill was "vague."
"The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother,'" Fallin said. "While I consistently have and continue to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination. In fact, the most direct path to a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade is the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court."