'Enough is enough': Democrats call on Paul Ryan to halt politicized Planned Parenthood inquiry
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, pictured on November 3, 2015, called for a pause in a White House program to settle Syrian refugees in the United States (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Democrats have raised the pressure on Republicans to disband a special inquiry into Planned Parenthood as officials at the organization assert a link between Friday’s deadly shooting at Colorado Springs health clinic and incendiary investigations by Congress.

With a letter released on Tuesday, the six Democrats appointed to the select committee became the latest to ask Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, to make good on his promise of “wiping the slate clean” in a House he criticized as “broken”.

“Enough is enough,” read the letter. “No women in this country should ever have to worry that a visit to her doctor will end in violence, and no healthcare provider should ever be targeted for ensuring access to health care services. Rather than demonizing a leading provider of vital health services for women, Congress should be taking affirmative steps to support women and their families.”

Since mid-July, a total of five congressional committees have opened investigations into allegations that Planned Parenthood sold fetal organs in violation of federal law. The accusations surfaced this summer with a series of doctored sting videos taken by a mysterious anti-abortion group. The claims have been debunked. But that has not slowed the procession of often hostile congressional hearings.

At the first congressional hearing on the subject, Trent Franks, a Republican representative from Arizona claimed that the videos “incontrovertibly document [the] rampant practice of harvesting and selling the little body parts from many of the hundreds of thousands of innocent babies they are guilty of killing in their abortion clinics across this nation every year.”

One of the Democrats to sign Tuesday’s letter, Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, likened the Planned Parenthood investigation to a similar select committee launched by House Republicans to investigate Benghazi. That panel recently came under fire when a House Republican leader conceded it had been successful in driving down Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers

“The purpose of that was just politics,” DeGette said. “And this committee is the same way.”

On Monday, Senator Barbara Boxer called on Ryan to disband a House select committee to investigate abortion providers created in late October. When he announced the committee, John Boehner, then speaker of the House, cited the videos: “Recent videos exposing the abortion-for-baby-parts business have shocked the nation, and demanded action,” he said.

But after Boxer’s remarks, Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican named the chair of that committee, denied that the investigation was in any way linked to Planned Parenthood: “Read the resolution establishing the select investigative panel on infant lives,” she said . “At no point does it mention Planned Parenthood.”

In an earlier hearing, Blackburn said, “Is this how babies should be treated? To be harvested for their heads? … We now have a select panel that will investigate the sale of baby body parts.”

Beyond Blackburn’s most recent comments, Republicans lawmakers have remained staunchly silent on the future of those inquiries. Top Republicans behind all four House inquiries did not reply to requests for comment or declined to discuss the future of their investigations, which are set to be reprised next year. GOP top brass confirmed on Tuesday that they are still pushing a budget measure – as they were before Thanksgiving – to strip Planned Parenthood of the $500m it draws in family planning funds. But they have all but dismissed the possibility of a dramatic government shutdown over the group.

Planned Parenthood executives connected the three deaths in Colorado to harsh conservative rhetoric even as law enforcement officials declined to assign the gunman a motive. The suspect in the assault, one law officer reportedly said, uttered a phrase – “no more baby parts” – that echoed lawmakers’ attacks on Planned Parenthood in the videos’ wake.

“These incidents are tragic and very hard to predict but they can be incited by the inflammatory and encouraging rhetoric we’ve seen,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice-president of Planned Parenthood, told the Guardian over the weekend. “Police are refraining from listing a motive. I won’t be at all surprised to find out that someone who is unstable can easily be motivated or manipulated by extreme rhetoric.” Appearing on MSNBC on Monday night, Cecile Richards, the Planned Parenthood president, said verbal attacks based on the videos “created the kind of climate that we are now seeing that leads to the harassment of doctors and violence at clinics”.

Democratic leaders, in less aggressive terms, have said that the hearings were a backdrop to the violence. “We in the Senate should not fail to see the context in which this vile assault took place,” said Harry Reid, senator from Nevada. “Whipping people into a frenzy of hate and anger while providing them with easy access to firearms has proved disastrous in this country.”

“I think what we’ve seen, as a result of all the hyped-up rhetoric you’re getting from the Republican side of the presidential race, is an increase in harassment of the clinics, what you’re seeing is an increase in arson – all those facts are out there,” Boxer told reporters on Tuesday.

Democrats have accused Republicans of using the videos as a pretext to achieve their long-held goal of cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

Before the creation of the select committee, other committees already held numerous combative hearings and fueled repeated House votes to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. Republicans on the education and workforce committee, which is not formally investigating the group, nevertheless grilled the health secretary, Sylvia Burwell, about the sting videos in a budgetary hearing on 28 July.

Additional reporting by Sabrina Siddiqui

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