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Marsha Blackburn to subpoena names of fetal tissue researchers

Abortion advocates say compiling such a list could put researchers and academics lives' at risk.

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) of Tennessee presides over the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, March 1.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Republicans on a special House committee investigating Planned Parenthood are planning to issue 17 subpoenas that seek the names of fetal tissue researchers, a move that has prompted charges of intimidation.

Democrats on the committee have denounced the decision to issue the subpoenas to medical supply companies and laboratories. The subpoenas request the names of researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians, and administrative personnel.

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Abortion rights advocates and some university officials say revealing the names of those researchers and staff members puts their safety at risk.

At a hearing of the committee on March 2, Democrats compared the subpoenas to former Sen. Joe McCarthy’s investigation of communists in the 1950s. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) of New York said the committee could be “complicit” in murders of those researchers if they are killed after their names become public, reports The Hill.

The New York Times reports that the new subpoenas will also escalate a battle that some researchers fear could shut down studies seeking cures for Parkinson’s disease, the Zika virus, and other illnesses.

The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was established after the release last summer of a series of controversial undercover videos that claimed Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue for profit.

It was later determined the videos were altered. Twenty states have cleared Planned Parenthood or decided not to investigate. A Texas grand jury recently indicted two anti-abortion advocates who helped make the videos, but the House investigation spurred by them continues.

“We are going to review the business practices of these procurement organizations and do some investigating of how they have constructed a for-profit business model from selling baby body parts,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) of Tennessee, chairwoman of the committee, told the Times.

Meanwhile, Idaho lawmakers on Thursday approved on an anti-abortion measure aimed at banning clinics from donating fetal tissue. The measure, called the Unborn Infants Dignity Act, would also prohibit research centers and universities from using tissue for research. It was proposed in response to the undercover videos released last summer.

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Four Democrats boycotted the legislation – which preemptively bans a practice that doesn’t exist in the state – and called it a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. The bill needs the approval of Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter to become law.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.