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March Bell

Chief of Staff, Office for Civil Rights

March Bell is a longtime anti-abortion advocate who has worked for a who’s who of Christian right-wing politicians. Before joining HHS, Bell led a controversial and politically motivated congressional panel that investigated Planned Parenthood created in the wake of unfounded accusations from a discredited anti-abortion activist.

HOW THEIR ROLE AFFECTS ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, health privacy laws and conscience laws. The Washington Post reported that the Office for Civil Rights during Bell’s tenure “has been greatly strengthening and expanding protections for health care providers who have religious- or conscience-based objections to procedures such as abortion.” It went on to say that “the makeover appears radical, one that critics worry will jeopardize the care of pregnant women and transgender individuals, as well as others who could be denied certain procedures.”

PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT OF NOTE

Republican Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the House panel that investigated Planned Parenthood, 1/2015 – 12/2016

National Coalitions Director for Gary Bauer for President, 2000 campaign

Consultant and Issues Director for Pat Robertson’s exploratory committee, mid 1980s

Deputy Director of Pat Robertson’s Regent School of Government, late 1990s

TIES TO OTHER ANTI-CHOICE EXTREMISTS

David Daleiden:

Bell said that his investigation of Planned Parenthood consisted of “lots of phone calls with David Daleiden.” Daleiden is an anti-choice extremist who was charged with 15 felonies for covertly recording women at Planned Parenthood clinics and releasing highly edited footage.

Gary Bauer:

Bell previously served as the National Coalitions Director for Gary Bauer’s presidential run. Bauer was the former head of the Family Research Council, and ran on a platform of opposition to abortion in all cases, including rape.

Pat Robertson:

Bell previously was a consultant and Issues Director for Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign, and also served as Deputy Director of Robertson’s Regent School of Government. Robertson, the former head of the Family Research Council, has claimed that abortion is “tantamount to murder.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Bell On How To Use Frivolous Lawsuits To Shut Down Planned Parenthood Clinics:

“So, because their business model is fragile…any interference in their cash flow that we can bring through any kind of lawsuit—violating any local health regulations, these lawsuits about people not being cared for when there’s a perforated uterus, and so on—can shut down a whole state or a whole group of clinics. It is remarkably fragile.” [People For The American Way, Right Wing Watch, 1/27/17]

Bell On How To Push Right-wing Christian Policy Priorities Through A Combination Professional Politics And “Hands-on Ministry”:

“March Bell '78, national coalitions director for the Bauer for President Campaign 2000, takes a ‘both/and’ approach rather than an ‘either/or’ approach about fighting injustice. Christians need to be represented in politics and involved in hands-on ministry, he says. ‘I never met a Christian activist in D.C. who thought that we were going to create a Christian America through politics,’ adds Bell. A good example of a ‘both/and’ approach to addressing a social problem can be found in the abortion crisis. Bell estimates that there are about fifteen full-time pro-life activists in Washington, and he says they are doing important work, but they are complemented by the volunteers at 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country.” [Covenant College, The View, Fall 1999]

THE WHOLE STORY

March Bell Ran A Congressional Panel To Investigate Planned Parenthood…

Bell Was A Republican Staff Director And Chief Counsel For A House Panel That Investigated Planned Parenthood. “In 2015, March Bell was Republican staff director and chief counsel for a House panel that investigated Planned Parenthood.” [Pro Publica, 7/31/18]

…That Asked For The Names Of Women’s Health Care Providers And Correspondence Between Health Care Providers And Government Employees — Potentially Exposing Women’s Private Medical Information To Congress

Democrats Maintained That The Panel Asked Providers Affiliated With A Public University To Reveal Any Students Or Medical Personnel Who Facilitated In An Abortion Or Provided Care Before Or After — And Also Any Correspondence Between Providers And Any Government Employees. “Republicans hired March Bell, former senior counsel for human trafficking in the Justice Department's civil rights division, as staff director and chief counsel. Bell, a Covenant College and Pepperdine Law School graduate, also was involved in investigations for the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism and the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Democrats maintain that panel Republicans asked providers to reveal any students or medical personnel affiliated with a public university who facilitated an abortion or provided care before or after an abortion. The requests included any correspondence, agreements or receipts between providers and any government employee. 'These document requests raise troubling questions about the direction of the panel's investigation,' the investigative panel's Democrats wrote in a letter to Blackburn last month. 'These requests would require a health care provider to turn over to Congress the personal medical information of any patient who happens to work for the federal government or any state.'" [Congressional Quarterly, 2/8/16]

  • Democrats Said That The Document Requests “Raise Troubling Questions About The Direction Of The Panel’s Investigation” And “Would Require A Health Care Provider To Turn Over To Congress The Personal Medical Information Of Any Patient Who Happens To Work For The Federal Government Or Any State.” "'These document requests raise troubling questions about the direction of the panel's investigation,' the investigative panel's Democrats wrote in a letter to Blackburn last month. 'These requests would require a health care provider to turn over to Congress the personal medical information of any patient who happens to work for the federal government or any state.'" [Congressional Quarterly, 2/8/16]

Bell Said The Panel Investigation Relied On Phone Calls With David Daleiden — A Man Who Was Charged With 15 Felonies For Secretly Recording Women At Planned Parenthood And Releasing Heavily Edited Footage

Bell Said His Investigators On The Panel Relied On “Lots Of Phone Calls With David Daleiden”; Daleiden Was The Creator Of The Planned Parenthood Videos. “Bell revealed that his investigators relied on 'lots of phone calls with David Daleiden' and had also talked with Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and Life Dynamics’ Mark Crutcher, whom he noted 'pioneered in this field.' Newman and Crutcher are extremist anti-choice activists, both of whom worked with Daleiden on his Planned Parenthood project.” [People For The American Way, Right Wing Watch, 1/27/17]

  • David Daleiden Was Charged With 15 Felonies In California For Filming People Without Their Consent At Meetings With Women’s Health Care Providers. “Two antiabortion activists whose controversial undercover videos accused Planned Parenthood doctors of selling fetal tissue were charged Tuesday with 15 felonies by California prosecutors. State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra's office alleges that David Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Sandra Merritt, filmed 14 people without their consent at meetings with women's healthcare providers in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Franciso and El Dorado.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/17]

Despite Finding No Wrongdoing, The Panel Still Recommended Defunding Planned Parenthood…

After Finding No Evidence Of Wrongdoing, The Panel Still Recommended That The National Institutes Of Health Stop Funding Planned Parenthood. “After 15 months of investigation and $1.6 million in taxpayer dollars, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives found no evidence of wrongdoing but nonetheless recommended that the National Institutes of Health stop funding Planned Parenthood.” [Pro Publica, 7/31/18]

…An Outcome Bell Has Continued To Advocate For — Including By Suing Planned Parenthood Providers To Drive Up Legal Costs And Disrupt Their Ability To Operate

Speaking On A Panel At An Anti-Choice Summit, Bell Stated That One Way To Shut Down Planned Parenthood Was Through Filing Lawsuits Against The Organization And Its Affiliates “Because Their Business Model Is Fragile” And Having To Pay To Defend Against Lawsuits “Can Shut Down A Whole State Or A Whole Group Of Clinics.” “Speaking on a panel titled 'Making the Case for Prosecution of Fetal Body Parts Traffickers,' the House panel’s chief counsel, former Justice Department attorney March Bell, made it clear that while his committee was ostensibly convened to investigate fetal tissue procurement practices—and did extensively delve into that area— one of its ultimate goals was to find ways to weaken Planned Parenthood. Bell said that still-unreleased videos taped by David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist who has attempted to show that Planned Parenthood sells 'baby body parts' for profit, show representatives of the group revealing that 'clinic budgets are quite fragile,' a weakness he said could be exploited by throwing lawsuits at Planned Parenthood and its affiliates. 'So, because their business model is fragile,' he said, 'any interference in their cash flow that we can bring through any kind of lawsuit—violating any local health regulations, these lawsuits about people not being cared for when there’s a perforated uterus, and so on—can shut down a whole state or a whole group of clinics. It is remarkably fragile.'” [People For The American Way, Right Wing Watch, 1/27/17]