In what Planned Parenthood officials are referring to as a “five-ring circus,” House Republicans have created a new committee specifically tasked with investigating the women’s health organization, despite the fact that months of scrutiny have failed to turn up any evidence that the group is actually breaking any laws.
The special committee formed on Wednesday brings the total count of congressional committees investigating Planned Parenthood up to five. There are already three in the House and one in the Senate; this week, separate from the vote to create a new committee, there’s a Judiciary Committee hearing on the organization’s activities scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Republican lawmakers say the special committee will help consolidate the ongoing probe into Planned Parenthood under one legislative body. Though they acknowledge that they cannot definitively say the national women health’s organization has violated the law, they argue that doesn’t eliminate the need for further inquiry into fetal tissue research — a scientific practice that has come under fire following the release of several inflammatory videos accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally profiting from the sale of aborted baby parts.
“Even if Planned Parenthood complied with the law, it’s clear we need to learn more about their barbaric tactics so we can amend those laws and ensure these practices never happen again,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said during Wednesday’s debate over whether to form yet another panel.
Since Republicans won control of the House in 2011, they’ve only created one other special panel: A committee to investigate the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that occurred in 2012. The subsequent investigation didn’t turn up any proof to substantiate Republican lawmakers’ theories about the attack.
The current crusade against Planned Parenthood has been directly compared to the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi, a political controversy that spanned years and cost millions of taxpayer dollars in failed investigations. Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that the controversy was responsible for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s declining poll numbers, and that they’re now poised to accomplish the same goal with public opinion toward Planned Parenthood. Last week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — who may end up replacing Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as the next Speaker of the House — insinuated that his party is prepared to make Planned Parenthood the next Benghazi.
Democrats, who have been pressuring their GOP colleagues to call off the new special committee, say the parallel proves that the ongoing Planned Parenthood investigation is unnecessary.
Last week, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) said the Planned Parenthood committee “would be a waste of taxpayer money and Congress’s time, much in the same way that time and money have been squandered by the Select Committee on Benghazi.” On Wednesday, after the panel was formed anyway, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) told reporters that Congress is about “to waste an enormous amount of time by members of Congress and their staff, an enormous amount of money just for political gain.”
For its part, Planned Parenthood has promised to continue work with lawmakers as they embark on their sixth legislative week in a row that’s included official activity focused on the group.
“Despite the clear political agenda behind these investigations, we continue to cooperate fully with all of them. We have provided more than 25,000 pages of documents to these committees, and Cecile Richards answered every question asked during nearly five hours of testimony last week,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.
The flurry of recent federal activity has also translated into legislative efforts against Planned Parenthood on the state level. Multiple states have launched their own investigations into the group, and several have moved forward with efforts to defund it. And fetal tissue research, which is used to help create vaccines and find new treatments for degenerative diseases, is also now under attack in state legislatures.