A special House investigative panel is alleging that a tissue procurement company and the abortion clinics it partnered with may have illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies.
“No one should profit from a sale on baby body parts. Nobody,” stated Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, at a Wednesday hearing on pricing of fetal tissue.
Wednesday’s hearing on fetal tissue pricing stems from a series of videos released last summer by the group Center for Medical Progress on the role of Planned Parenthood clinics in providing fetal tissue of aborted babies to harvesters for compensation.
The videos were taped undercover conversations with high-ranking Planned Parenthood doctors, some of whom joked casually about the pricing or extraction of fetal tissue. The conversations were with members of Center for Medical Progress posing as representatives of a fake tissue procurement company BioMax, looking to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics.
Project lead David Daleiden and his team alleged that Planned Parenthood broke the law by accepting illegal profits for the fetal tissue. Federal law prohibits the sale of fetal tissue but allows for “reasonable” compensation for when the tissue is donated for research purposes, like compensation for operating costs.
In the wake of the controversy, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was created to find out whether Planned Parenthood broke the law. To date, 12 states have declared, after investigations, that Planned Parenthood did not break the law.
The panel presented exhibits Wednesday alleging that one tissue procurement business — which turned out to be StemExpress — advertised profits to be made by abortion clinics by donating fetal tissue of aborted babies for research purposes.
Once the tissue was obtained from abortion clinics, the company, acting as a middle-man, then sold the tissue to researchers. In the documents provided, those sales were made at profits ranging from $595 for brain tissue to $890 for limb tissue.
Its partnerships with abortion clinics jumped from three in 2010 to almost 100 in 2014 to over 250 planned partnerships in 2016 before the negotiations with the national abortion trade organization fell through around the time the undercover videos were released. Their overall profits also rose from almost zero in 2010 to $4.5 million in 2014.
The panel released graphs allegedly showing a similar growth in the number of abortion clinics the company partnered with from 2010-2016 and its total revenue from 2010-2014.
Meanwhile, since technicians allegedly took care of all procurement of fetal tissue, from obtaining consent forms from mothers before their abortions to obtaining the tissue from clinics, the clinics had no operating costs to be reimbursed for as allowed by federal law and thus could have illegally profited from the transfer of fetal blood and tissue, the documents alleged.
Democrats on the panel responded that clinics did have operating costs to be covered in the fetal tissue donations. Witness Robert Raben of The Raben Group noted that costs associated with the sterilization of equipment and human resources staff time to help with consent forms from the mothers, for example, would qualify.
Federal law bans the sale of fetal tissue, but allows for the transfer of tissue for research purposes for “reasonable” compensation, so long as it is not “valuable consideration.” Lawful compensation includes for the purposes of “transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”
At the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) alleged that the documents presented by the committee were “created wholesale” by Republican staffers and were “misleading.”
The chairwoman of the committee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) responded that the documents were produced through “regular investigatory work” and information came from whistleblowers, subpoenas, former employees, citizens filing FOIA requests, and the internet.
StemExpress responded with a legal memo sent to the panel’s chair and ranking member saying that the documents could be stolen. Daleiden, the project chair for the Center for Medical Progress’ “Human Capital Project,” admitted that he used the password of a former employee to access the company’s records, and StemExpress alleged that he could have provided some of the documents to the panel.
Additionally, they did not profit from fetal tissue procurement, the company claimed. Although their overall profits rose from 2010 to 2014, fetal tissue procurement made up only one percent of profits in 2014-15. While their revenue from fetal tissue totaled just under $75,000 in 2014-15, the costs for the procurement were over $95,000, making it a $20,000 loss.
“In short, StemExpress does not provide fetal tissue to its customers to make money; rather, it is offered to support the needs of the world’s best researchers in their efforts to treat and cure diseases,” the company stated.
One of the witnesses, former Justice Department attorney Brian Lennon, thought that according to the documents presented by the panel, “the proofs more clearly establish” that the abortion clinics received illegal compensation.
The “price-partitioned payment is indeed ‘valuable consideration’ as none of the identified services excluded from the definition were provided by the clinics,” he said, referring to the lawful purposes of compensation. He pointed to the advertisements included in the report of the company telling potential clients they could make a profit.
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