The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is asking a federal judge to clarify a temporary restraining order so congressional investigators can determine whether the University of Washington is trafficking in fetal body parts with Planned Parenthood.
The panel in April subpoenaed the university for public documents about its Birth Defects Research Laboratory, a clearinghouse for fetal tissue from abortions that partners with Planned Parenthood.
U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart later granted a Planned Parenthood request for a temporary restraining order to halt production of the documents.
In a letter last week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the investigative panel, asked Judge Robart to confirm that his order “may not be construed to preclude the UW’s compliance with the Panel’s subpoena.”
“On behalf of the Panel, I respectfully request that the Court modify its [temporary restraining order] to clarify that it does not restrain the UW from disclosing information requested pursuant to a legitimate congressional subpoena,” Ms. Blackburn wrote. “Such modification of the TRO is self-evidently within the Court’s discretion.”
Under the April 29 congressional subpoena, the university released some of the requested documents but asked for additional time to make full production. To expedite the process, the investigative panel directed 14 specific requests to the University of Washington on Sept. 15.
But by that time, the university had become embroiled in a lawsuit involving Planned Parenthood, UW personnel and pro-life advocates, including David Daleiden, who spearheaded the Center for Medical Progress undercover video investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Daleiden in February made a public-records request for documents detailing transactions between Planned Parenthood and the birth defects center.
Planned Parenthood responded in August by suing Mr. Daleiden and other pro-life activists. The abortion provider claimed it represents more than 150 personnel associated with Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Idaho, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Birth Defects Research Laboratory and other groups whose privacy would be compromised by the fulfillment of the public records request.
Judge Robart granted Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order, and the University of Washington declined to fulfill 13 of the 14 congressional subpoena requests. The university said it was unable to provide the records because of the restraining order.
Ms. Blackburn said the restraining order cannot be used to stonewall a congressional subpoena.
“Accordingly, it is the Panel’s position that the UW must comply with the subpoena and that the TRO is not properly construed to interfere with that obligation,” Ms. Blackburn wrote. “Consequently, any construction of the TRO that would prohibit compliance with the Panel’s validly issued subpoena would violate the Constitution and, therefore, is to be avoided.”
The Family Policy Institute of Washington, which Planned Parenthood sued after one of its staffers filed a public records request, praised the panel’s letter as a win for transparency.
“This is a step in the right direction for holding Planned Parenthood — and now the University of Washington — accountable to the public,” the think tank said in a statement.
Since the general election last week, pro-life advocates have appealed to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, to extend the select panel into the next congressional session.
Citing “the stonewalling and lack of cooperation with the Select Panel by abortionists and others,” the panel “has not been able to fully complete their investigation” into accusations that Planned Parenthood is trafficking in fetal body parts from abortions, said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.
“We urge House Speaker Paul Ryan to commit now to extending the Select Panel on Infant Lives into the next Congressional Session, so they have the time they need to finish their work,” Mr. Newman said in a statement.