October 7, 2015 — A federal judge on Tuesday said he would not block an antiabortion-rights group from responding to a congressional subpoena for footage the group secretly recorded of National Abortion Federation meetings, Politico's "Under the Radar" reports.
According to "Under The Radar," a temporary restraining order barring the videos from being released publicly is still in effect (Gerstein, "Under the Radar," Politico, 10/6).
Judge William Orrick, of the Northern District of California, issued a temporary restraining order against the antiabortion-rights group Center for Medical Progress earlier this year, after NAF filed a lawsuit against the group. The order blocks CMP from releasing any of its secretly recorded video footage of NAF's annual meetings in 2014 and 2015, as well as from releasing dates of NAF's future meetings and the names and addresses of NAF members.
Orrick wrote that NAF could suffer irreparable harm "in the form of harassment, intimidation, violence, invasion of privacy, and injury to reputation" if the videos were released publicly.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has issued a subpoena to obtain the footage, as well as footage CMP secretly recorded of Planned Parenthood officials (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/21). According to "Under the Radar," NAF requested that Orrick prevent CMP founder David Daleiden from responding to the subpoena.
Latest Ruling Details
In Tuesday's ruling, Orrick wrote, "Congress has the power to investigate, and it is not up to the courts to go beyond the narrow confines of determining that the committee's inquiry is in its province." Orrick noted that he is concerned about NAF members' safety and privacy, but he said he "cannot assume that Congress will act irresponsibly in regulating or disclosing" the footage.
Meanwhile, NAF said under Orrick's order, CMP must provide NAF with copies of what it will give to Congress before giving it to Congress. "We do not believe that all of the footage CMP stole from our meetings is responsive to this subpoena, and we urge the Committee to require Daleiden to also turn over all documents and emails relevant to the conspiracy and fraud he committed against NAF and our members," NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta said, adding, "We urge Congress to be mindful of the security risks faced by abortion providers, and the need for confidentiality as they conduct their investigation" ("Under the Radar," Politico, 10/6).
House Committee Approves Measure To Create Special Investigative Panel
In related news, the House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved a resolution (H Res 461) that would create a special Energy and Commerce subcommittee to investigate abortion procedures and how fetal tissue is procured at Planned Parenthood and other medical facilities, CQ News reports (Zanona, CQ News, 10/6). The full House will consider the measure on Wednesday.
Three House committees have investigated Planned Parenthood since CMP started releasing footage in July (DeBonis, Washington Post, 10/7). Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said, "The intent is to centralize the three probes." She did not say whether the other investigations would end if the panel was created (CQ News, 10/6).
The new, 13-member subcommittee would be allowed to probe, among other topics, federal funding for abortion providers and providers' practices for abortions later in pregnancy. Further, it would be able to investigate "medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement" and "any other relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement" (Washington Post, 10/7). The subcommittee would have subpoena powers.
According to CQ News, the resolution approved Tuesday does not allocate funding for the panel, nor does it estimate the cost of an investigation (CQ News, 10/6). According to the Post, the subcommittee could recommend changes to laws and regulations based on what it finds (Washington Post, 10/7). Further, the subcommittee would be tasked with submitting a report based on findings of an investigation. Thirty days after the report is filed, the subcommittee would be dissolved (CQ News, 10/6).
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) compared committees' probes into Planned Parenthood to McCarthy-era investigations into purported communist infiltration, saying, "I defy anyone to explain what the basis for the Planned Parenthood assault is" (Washington Post, 10/7).
Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said, "[W]e're going to waste scarce resources on an investigation that has already taken place and revealed absolutely nothing" (CQ News, 10/6).
Separately, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood, said, "It's become very obvious that this is all part of a political agenda to make abortion illegal in this country." She added, "Despite the clear political agenda behind these investigations, we continue to cooperate fully with all of them" (Washington Post, 10/7).
Oversight Committee Members Urge Chair To Subpoena CMP Founder
Meanwhile, several members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday called on Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to subpoena documents from CMP's Daleiden, The Hill reports (Ferris, The Hill, 10/6).
In the letter, members wrote, "To date, Daleiden has not produced a single page, while Planned Parenthood has produced more than 20,000 pages." According to The Hill, Daleiden was not called to testify at the three congressional hearings on the videos.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, "Unlike Planned Parenthood, Mr. Daleiden and his group engaged in a host of potentially illegal activities" (The Hill, 10/6).
Sens. Request HHS Fetal Tissue Research Audit
In other related news, conservative lawmakers in the Senate have sent a letter to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson requesting that he "conduct an audit of all fetal tissue research supported by HHS," CQ Roll Call's "#WGDB" reports (Lesniewski, "#WGDB, Roll Call, 10/6).
The Obama administration in a letter to Congress in August said there are no known violations of fetal tissue laws by government researchers or companies that supply fetal tissue (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/17). In the latest letter, conservative senators said the August letter was an incomplete response to an earlier request about information about fetal tissue transfer oversight ("#WGDB," Roll Call, 10/6).
Op-Ed: 'Lives Currently Hanging in the Balance' in Efforts Targeting Planned Parenthood
"What really demands attention" amid lawmakers' efforts to target Planned Parenthood "are the lives currently hanging in the balance," Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.
She writes the organization "provides 2.7 million Americans annually with cancer screenings, birth control and [sexually transmitted infection] testing." She adds, "The organization estimates one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and 75 percent of the $500 million in federal funding [conservative lawmakers] hope to eliminate comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating America's poorest patients."
According to vanden Heuvel, states since 2011 "have enacted an astonishing 287 new restrictions on abortion access"; "[o]ne-and-a-half abortion clinics are closing every week"; and a California Planned Parenthood clinic last week "was deliberately set on fire." She writes, "These setbacks seriously hinder access to desperately needed health services, especially for those without other options." She notes that, according to Planned Parenthood, "78 percent of its patients are low-income. A third are black or Latino. More than half of its clinics are located in rural or underserved areas."
Vanden Heuvel quotes Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who said, "'We're not fighting political battles just to get a tally of win-losses. It's because it actually does matter in women's lives.'" According to vanden Heuvel, "That is what's at stake. Progressives need to see this new front in an old war for what it is: an existential threat to the pro-choice movement."
Noting that Planned Parenthood "been an essential part of the fabric of our country for nearly a century," vanden Heuvel contends that "los[ing] Planned Parenthood because we are not vigilant in its defense would be a 21st-century tragedy." She concludes, "[I]t's time to take the fight to the extremists, to stand up not just for Planned Parenthood, but also for the people who need it most" (vanden Heuvel, Washington Post, 10/6).