Sweet: Rep. Schakowsky top Dem on GOP Planned Parenthood panel

SHARE Sweet: Rep. Schakowsky top Dem on GOP Planned Parenthood panel
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U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky speaks at an event in January 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., an outspoken defender of abortion rights, was tapped Wednesday by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to be the top Democrat on the new GOP-created panel to probe abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood.

Make that the fourth committee in the House looking into Planned Parenthood, following the release of undercover videos by a group called the Center for Medical Progress, which accuses the women’s health organization of improperly selling fetal tissue.

“I can assure you, my plan is to be on the offensive,” Schakowsky told me. “. . . I think the Republicans will actually regret having started this witch hunt.”

Former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, formed the new committee to investigate Planned Parenthood just before he quit last month.

You can see how this is headed toward a showdown.

The GOP name for the panel is the “Select Panel to Investigate Handling of Infant Lives.”

The Democrats are calling the committee the “Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.”

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There is every reason to see this panel as a move to try, once again, to erode abortion rights and to make it harder for women to access medical services.

It’s not like Planned Parenthood has been given a pass by the House. Three committees — Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Oversight and Government Reform — have been investigating the group. Let me emphasize: these are committees with Republican majorities led by GOP chairmen, many of whom are strong abortion foes.

“I want to just make a couple of things clear. The issue of abortion is at the heart of this,” Schakowsky said at the Sept. 17 Energy and Commerce hearing.

Boehner picked Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to chair the additional Planned Parenthood panel.

Like the Select Committee on Benghazi, the Blackburn panel can pretty much go where it wants. Blackburn said in an Oct. 23 statement, “This will be a broad-based information gathering — fact-finding mission — to answer questions about how we treat and protect life in this country. This is a discussion that this country must have. This is a discussion that we should not shy away from.”

Democrats decided not to boycott the Blackburn panel. Once that was resolved, Schakowsky told me she wanted to be on committee.

“Democrats need to be in the room to make sure we are defending women’s health and women’s rights,” Schakowsky said.

I asked Pelosi why she picked Schakowsky for the job.

“First of all, you have to know what you are talking about, and Jan knows what she is talking about,” Pelosi said. Moreover, Pelosi wanted someone who could communicate to the public. Schakowsky, a frequent guest on news shows, is practiced.

“It is about the vision, it is about the knowledge, it is about the plan and how it is messaged,” Pelosi said.

There are only 88 women in Congress; 23 are Republicans and 65 are Democrats.

Four of the eight Republicans on the Blackburn panel are women; five of the six Democrats are women.

The Benghazi Committee grilled Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton for about nine hours last month in a day that, with breaks, covered about 11 hours. The Benghazi panel has no expiration date.

“You would think they would quit when they’re behind,” Pelosi said.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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