WASHINGTON -- Ever since a gunman on a shooting rampage killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic late last month, Republicans on the select panel convened to investigate Planned Parenthood have been insisting that the committee isn't targeting the nation's largest abortion provider.
In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, Democrats have called for the committee to be disbanded. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that the committee "serves only to continue the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood, its staff and its patients."
The Republican response has been to point out that the October resolution establishing the special committee referred generally to "abortion providers," but not Planned Parenthood. Then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) similarly said the panel would "focus on the grisly practices of big abortion providers," without mentioning Planned Parenthood explicitly, when he appointed the Republican members of the committee.
"Instead of playing politics with this tragedy, maybe those on the left … should actually take the time to read the resolution establishing the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the select committee's chair, told The Hill last month. "At no point does it mention Planned Parenthood."
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who is also serving on the committee, echoed Blackburn's defense in a column for TownHall.com. "Boxer called the panel a 'witch hunt against Planned Parenthood,' though Planned Parenthood is mentioned nowhere in the House resolution calling for the panel's formation," she wrote.
Despite that carefully worded resolution, it is clear that the committee arose out of Republican fury over heavily edited videos that showed Planned Parenthood staffers discussing the donation of fetal tissues for medical research. The videos were released by an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, over the summer. Planned Parenthood has strongly denied claims from abortion rights opponents that it illegally profited from the donations, and the health care network has since ceased accepting reimbursement of costs at its two facilities that still supply fetal tissue to researchers.
Three House committees have already conducted their own Planned Parenthood investigations. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has admitted that he had found no evidence of wrongdoing after his panel investigated Planned Parenthood's use of federal funds.
Still, there hasn't been any indication from Republicans that the select committee, which has yet to announce any scheduled hearings, will investigate other abortion providers. The special panel's formation is also included on a timeline released by the House Republican Conference to showcase its broader "Investigation Into Planned Parenthood."
Republican rhetoric has likewise supported the Democrats' point that the committee is laser-focused on Planned Parenthood. Weeks before the Colorado Springs shooting, Ryan told CNN that his party was "just beginning to start a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood" and referred to it as "the special committee on Planned Parenthood."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is one of the six Democrats on the select committee, argued that "it's obviously all aimed at Planned Parenthood." He suggested to The Huffington Post that Republicans now want to "camouflage" the fact that the panel is part of a "concerted campaign" against the health care provider.
"They want to give themselves a little more leeway and don't want to appear to be punitive against one organization, but it's clear what they're doing," Nadler said.
Law enforcement officials have said that Robert Lewis Dear, the accused Colorado Springs gunman, declared, "No more baby parts," when he was arrested, echoing language used by conservatives about the fetal donation videos. Nadler said this was reason enough for the GOP to disband the panel.
"It is clear now that the rhetoric behind this, the rhetoric of sale of body parts, the rhetoric of 'baby killers,' is leading to terrorism -- it's causative to the terrorism that we've seen," Nadler said. "They have to take responsibility for the kind of extreme rhetoric … that leads to terrorist actions, that leads to people dying."
The perception that the select committee has Planned Parenthood as its primary target is shared by conservatives outside Congress: The Susan B. Anthony List, which backs anti-abortion Republican women, called it "the Select Panel investigating Planned Parenthood," and conservative media outlets like LifeNews and Breitbart have referred to the committee as if the congressional resolution wasn't intentionally vague.
Democratic staffers said there hasn't been a lot of talk from Republicans as to what they're actually planning to do with the panel.
"This is also just one more step in their endless attacks on women's right to choose, and I think they're leaving the door open to whatever lets them keep the barrage up," said Courtney Cochran, communications director for Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.).
At least one Republican on the committee has chosen her assignment, however. Though the Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds from paying for most abortions for decades, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Ind.) told USA Today last week that her focus would be "trying to figure out if Planned Parenthood uses any federal dollars to defray the cost of providing abortions."
The more than $500 million that Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government annually comes under Medicaid and Title X, a federal family planning program that serves lower-income Americans.
"I'm going to be taking the lead in … following the money trail," Hartzler said. "So trying to determine if they are subsidizing their abortion side with funds that are coming in the door" from the federal government.
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