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Universities protest subpoenas for fetal tissue researchers' names

Universities protest subpoenas for fetal tissue researchers' names
© Greg Nash

Medical schools and universities are protesting Republicans’ decision to issue subpoenas for the names of researchers involved in fetal tissue studies, saying it could put their safety at risk. 

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The Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents all of the country’s medical schools, expressed its “significant concerns” in a letter on Thursday to the heads of the congressional committee set up to investigate Planned Parenthood. 

The letter raised concerns over pressure to hand the committee “the identities and other personal information not only of researchers but also of graduate students and trainees, health care providers, and administrative and support staff.” 

"Initial requests sent to our member institutions failed to articulate why information that identified individuals was being requested and how the Panel intended to use this information,” the letter continues. “No assurances were provided to institutions that the Panel would institute any measures to ensure that this information would be safeguarded."

The letter urged committee leaders to establish bipartisan rules on how the information will be used and safeguarded. The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities joined the letter. 

“Many scientists and physicians are deeply concerned for their safety and that of their patients, colleagues, and students in light of inflammatory statements and reports surrounding fetal tissue donation,” the letter states. 

Democrats on the panel have also sharply denounced Chairwoman Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCelebrity endorsements aren't kingmakers, but they may be tiebreakers Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Blackburn thanks restaurant owner for hosting event after social media backlash MORE (R-Tenn.) for the subpoenas seeking researchers' names. The panel issued a new round of subpoenas on Wednesday. 

“Chair Blackburn has refused to explain why she needs a database of names,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the top Democrat on the panel, said in a statement Wednesday. “It is time for this witch hunt to come to an end."

"It is important to the Chairman to be responsible with the use of these names, but it is impossible for the panel to do a complete investigation without knowledge of the individuals involved in transactions and practices we are investigating," Mike Reynard, a spokesman for Rep. Blackburn, said Thursday in response to the universities' letter.

Speaking to reporters after a March 2 hearing, Blackburn defended asking for the names of researchers. 

“We are going to continue to have the necessary information, and we are going to do everything possible to protect names and identities,” she said. “You saw that with the exhibits that we brought forward today.”

Asked why the names were needed, Blackburn said only, “to follow the trail.”

This story was updated at 6:39 p.m.