On Nov. 27 last year, a vicious gunman opened fire on health care providers at a Planned Parenthood community clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people, including a local law enforcement officer. It was later learned that the assailant had been motivated in part by extreme anti-abortion rhetoric related to the false allegations that Planned Parenthood has been profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. In 2009, respected physician Dr. George Tiller was gunned down during a worship service at his church in Wichita, Kan., after he was publicly cited in the media and even on the Floor of the House of Representatives as a practitioner of late-term abortions. Since 1993, there have been 11 murders and 26 attempted murders resulting from extreme anti-abortion violence, not to mention more than 200 arson attacks since the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.
Perhaps just as tragic as these crimes is the reality that they might have been prevented had politicians and commentators refrained from crossing a very dangerous line. By combining a relentless barrage of accusatory and dehumanizing rhetoric with the release of specific identification of individuals and organizations, they bear some culpability for creating the conditions that led to these crimes.
Yet, having failed to learn from the very real and very dangerous consequences of extreme rhetoric and the publication of names and personal information of those who provide reproductive care services, House Republicans are now placing other health care practitioners, researchers, patients and first responders in danger — this time in our home state of Maryland. They are doing so by continuing their nearly year-long witch-hunt targeting women's access to safe and comprehensive health care. Their investigation has so far failed to identify any wrongdoing against Planned Parenthood or any other health care provider. Yet what has come to be known as the Republican Panel to Attack Women's Health continues to operate without an end-date.
Now, its activities have reached a new low. On May 11, Republicans on the panel, led by its Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, released a statement to the press that included the name and workplace of a Maryland doctor. Moreover, the panel has also issued 36 subpoenas to health care providers, researchers, care facilities, patients, and E.M.T. first responders across the country — without first contacting the subjects of the subpoenas to request voluntary compliance. This particularly unique form of congressional harassment is more than disruptive; it has the potential to contribute to the incitement of the kind of violence we saw in Colorado and Kansas.
As long as this House Select Investigative Panel continues to operate, individuals providing health care for women will live in constant fear of having their names appear on the panel's next press release. Researchers will continuously worry that their search for lifesaving cures — using fetal tissue lawfully obtained — could bring with it danger. First responders will hesitate before answering an emergency call from a woman suffering a miscarriage or even going into labor, fearing that they may be summoned before the panel and then be assigned vile epithets by pundits on the evening news.
This panel has already wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars without identifying an ounce of wrongdoing. Similar investigations in 20 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and come to an end. In fact, the only people to be brought up on charges have been the extreme anti-abortion activists who produced the manipulated videos that sparked these investigations. In January, they were indicted in Texas on felony and misdemeanor charges relating to record tampering and attempting to purchase human organs.
On Monday, June 13, the House Republicans' panel is scheduled to depose subpoenaed witnesses in its ongoing witch-hunt. If this deposition proceeds, it could place the lives of doctors, researchers, patients and first responders — and their family members — at risk. We don't want to wake up on June 14 to the tragic news that rhetoric has become unthinkable reality. Not in Maryland, not anywhere. Those who work in our health care sector deserve better from Congress, and so do the American people — and we're going to continue working to bring this dangerous farce of a politically motivated investigation to an end.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Twitter: @WhipHoyer), a Democrat, is House Minority Whip; he represents Maryland's 5th District. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., who represents Maryland's 8th District, is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Maryland; Twitter: and @ChrisVanHollen.