WASHINGTON — Following a lively debate Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to add an additional $800,000 to the budget for the congressional panel investigating Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that the committee may not exist anymore come January.
The 14-person panel, informally called the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, will continue to investigate Planned Parenthood's use of fetal tissue and its connections to the tissue procurement agency StemExpress. But it's unclear whether the panel will continue in the next Congress which begins next year.
Republicans on the panel accuse both Planned Parenthood and StemExpress of lying to women about what kinds of research fetal tissue can be used for in order to persuade them to have abortion. They have also accused Planned Parenthood of providing StemExpress with confidential patient information. Both organizations deny these accusations, though a Planned Parenthood consent form shows that the organization incorrectly stated that fetal tissue has been used to "treat and cure" Alzheimer's, cancer, and AIDS.
The committee is the third iteration of congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood in response to last year's release of heavily-edited, secretly-recorded videos made by an anti-abortion advocate. The videos show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the process of procuring fetal tissue from abortions and transferring it to agencies and labs for medical research.
All three of the committees — and thirteen state investigations — have sought evidence that Planned Parenthood and StemExpress profited off of the sale of fetal tissue, though none have uncovered wrongdoing.
The latest panel subpoenaed StemExpress and its chief executive, Cate Dyer, and, in September voted along party lines to recommend contempt charges for Dyer, arguing that the company had not complied. Democrats disagreed and staged a walkout in protest of the vote, which did not advance to the House floor.
The $800,000 is "necessary funding to allow us to complete our work," the panel said in a statement. They would not clarify further to BuzzFeed News what that work will entail and what exactly the funding will go toward.
The panel will formally cease to exist once the 115th Congress takes over in January. But it is possible that it could take on a fourth form. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic member on the panel, told BuzzFeed News that she thinks that with Trump in the White House another investigative committee may not be necessary. Republicans will instead pursue the many other "avenues" that just opened for them "to pursue their anti-choice, anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-sex education, anti-women’s health agenda," Schakowsky argued, listing them on her fingers.
In Thursday's House debate on the budget increase, Republicans touted the importance of their investigation by focusing on the rhetoric in the videos, with members calling the way the doctors spoke "callous" and "disturbing, horrific, and unacceptable." At one point, as Republican Congressman Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania described the “harvesting of baby parts,” a baby in the audience began to cry.
The committee’s Democrats countered by demanding that the House disband the committee entirely. They the investigations a “murderous witch hunt” that aims to “punish women, doctors, and scientists" and runs the risk of preventing “valuable scientific research” using fetal tissue to research cures for afflictions such as cancer, HIV, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's.
Some Democrats argued that the panel is physically endangering abortion providers and patients by angering anti-abortion extremists. Democratic congresswoman Diana DeGette mentioned the shooting at Planned Parenthood in her home state of Colorado, after which alleged shooter Robert Dear used rhetoric similar to the talking points used by Republicans and anti-abortion advocates in talking about the videos.
“The panel was supposed to be set up to investigate the sale of fetal tissue, but that didn’t take,” DeGette said during the debate. “So may I ask, what the heck are we being asked to spend $800,000 on?”
The budget approval brings the total amount spent on investigations for the panel to $1.5 million.
The doubling of the committee's budget comes shortly after Trump picked Rep. Tom Price — who supports defunding Planned Parenthood — to be his secretary of Health and Human Services.
Democrats, in the meantime are gearing up for a fight.
“We need to be ready for a real battle on these issues, including Supreme Court justices," Schakowsky told BuzzFeed News following the vote. "I think it’s clear that Roe v. Wade is at risk in this country right now."
"But women are not going to go back, they will fight back," she continued, "they will not go back to the alleys.”