On March 2, Congress' Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives held its first hearing on bioethics and the morality of fetal tissue research. Republicans in Congress established the panel following baseless allegations from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that Planned Parenthood was involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. In the first hearing, despite claims of objectivity, the panel relied on evidence taken directly from CMP's website to attack abortion providers and fetal tissue research.
House Republicans Form Select Committee To Investigate Abortions After CMP Releases Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood
House Republicans Create “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” Following Release Of Deceptively Edited Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood. In October 2015, House Republicans voted to create a special committee to investigate abortion service providers and fetal tissue donation. The vote followed the release of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress, which targeted Planned Parenthood officials and fetal tissue procurement companies. The committee was later named the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. [Huffington Post, 10/7/15; Roll Call, 11/17/15]
CMP Founder And Associate Indicted By Houston Grand Jury Due To Actions Taken During Campaign Against Planned Parenthood
Texas Grand Jury Indicted Two Members Of Anti-Choice Group CMP. A Houston grand jury indicted CMP founder David Daleiden and his associate Sandra Merritt for tampering with a governmental record in creating fake California driver's licenses. Daleiden was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to his offers to Planned Parenthood officials in Texas to purchase human organs. The indictment came after CMP released a series of doctored videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood selling aborted fetal parts. [Media Matters, 1/26/16]
Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives Held First Hearing On “Bioethics And Fetal Tissue”
Wash. Post: Panel “Aggressively Questioned” “Necessity of Fetal Tissue Research” During First Hearing. The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives held its first hearing on March 2. According to Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis, the Republicans on the panel “aggressively questioned the morality and the necessity” of fetal tissue research under the guise of discussing “the ethical implications of using fetal tissue in biomedical research.” Although most of the hearing focused on evaluating the benefits of such research, Republicans also emphasized “several documents they obtained through investigation” about the process of tissue procurement itself. DeBonis wrote that this strategy was likely “previewing what is likely to be an ongoing line of GOP inquiry”:
Wednesday's hearing was set to explore the ethical implications of using fetal tissue in biomedical research but before the panel heard from six expert witnesses -- four selected by Republicans and two by Democrats- members clashed over the series of document requests Republicans made to more than 30 entities. Those requests, made by subpoena in some cases, include demands for names of researchers, technicians and medical personnel involved in fetal tissue handling.
While much of the hearing focused on the larger implications of that research, some Republicans concentrated on the particular practices of those handling that tissue -- previewing what is likely to be an ongoing line of GOP inquiry.
Republicans highlighted several documents they obtained through their investigation, including an April 2014 email between undisclosed parties discussing a researcher's need for a “first trimester human embryo, preferably around 8 weeks, and up to 10 weeks gestation.” [The Washington Post, 3/2/16]
Hearing Focus Came From Anti-Choice Group CMP's Discredited Videos
Panel Chair Blackburn: CMP Videos “Revealed That Something Very Troubling Is Going On Related To Fetal Tissue Research.” In her opening statement, panel chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) linked the impetus for the day's hearings to the release of videos by CMP the previous summer. According to Blackburn, the videos “revealed that something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissue in research.” From Blackburn's opening statement:
MARSHA BLACKBURN: Last summer's videos revealed that something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissue in research. The weak, the vulnerable, those with no voice -- harvested and sold -- there is something going on and something that deserves investigating and it demands our best moral and ethical thinking.
This first hearing on ethics focuses our attention on procuring and transferring baby body parts and related matters. We will hear from professors who teach ethics, from medical practitioners, from those who do biomedical research, from those within America's faith traditions -- so that we as legislators might become informed about the ethical implications and issues for: the woman who terminates a pregnancy, for the researcher, for the person who needs a cure, for the baby. [Opening Statement of Chairman Marsha Blackburn for the Select Panel To Investigate Infant Lives, Hearing on Bioethics and Fetal Tissue, 3/2/16]
ThinkProgress: Panel Was “A Wide-Ranging Discussion Of The Morality Of Abortion” Spurred By The Release Of CMP Videos. In a March 3 article for ThinkProgress, health reporter Alex Zielinski wrote that the panel hearing operated “more like a witch hunt than an objective discussion.” Instead of discussing fetal tissue donation practices, lawmakers instead launched into a “wide-ranging discussion of the morality of abortion,” featuring a set of witnesses who were “openly anti-abortion.” While CMP's deceptively edited videos have been long debunked, “GOP representatives were still eager to pursue the issue,” Zielinski noted:
Behind the closed doors of the Capitol, members of the House held the first congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood's involvement with the sale of fetal tissue. This hearing, dubbed the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” by the conservative representatives behind it, was a wide-ranging discussion of the morality of abortion that Democratic lawmakers protested was more like a witch hunt than an objective discussion.
Four of the six people called to testify at Wednesday's hearing were openly anti-abortion, and the discussion often veered into territory that left lawmakers at a loss for words.
“In our society, have we reached a point where there is an Amazon.com for baby parts, including entire babies?” Rep. Diane Black (R) asked at one point. No one knew quite how to answer.
The hearing was scheduled after a anti-abortion group created a series of videos that claimed Planned Parenthood profited off selling baby tissue -- a campaign that sparked investigations into the organization across the country. According to chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who led the recent congressional fight to defund Planned Parenthood, the purpose of the hearing was to discuss “ethical issues that surround procuring and selling baby body parts” -- an illegal act that Planned Parenthood never participated in, according to each of the nearly 30 states that have investigated the health organization.
Although these videos have now been discredited due to their highly edited content, and two of the videographers involved have been indicted in Texas for tampering with government evidence and other crimes, GOP representatives were still eager to pursue the issue. They brought a handful of experts -- the majority of which were openly anti-abortion -- to talk about this unfounded crime. [ThinkProgress, 3/3/16]
Anti-Choice CMP Has Released Multiple Deceptive Videos Attacking Planned Parenthood -- All Of Which Have Been Debunked. Since July 2015, CMP has released multiple videos containing undercover footage of discussions with Planned Parenthood personnel and staff members of other private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies. CMP has claimed that its videos show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, and that the words of Planned Parenthood personnel who were secretly filmed have been “grossly [taken] out of context.” Twelve states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have also investigated claims made by CMP and found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. [Media Matters, 8/31/15]
During Hearing, Panel Members Relied On Debunked Evidence From CMP To Attack Fetal Tissue Research
All Exhibits Used To Prove So-Called “Profit Motive” Were Featured In CMP Video. Congressional panel members submitted 12 evidence exhibits to the record during the first hearing. Three of the 12 exhibits, A1 through A3, were featured in CMP's sixth video, a “documentary”: “Human Capital - Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site.” The video relies on the account of Holly O'Donnell, a third-party technician who never worked for Planned Parenthood and who says Planned Parenthood engages in the legal donation of fetal tissue only with informed consent. The video provides no evidence of illegal activity, and the exhibits alone show no evidence of wrongdoing. [Bioethics and Fetal Tissue Hearing, Document for the Record, Majority Exhibits, Accessed 3/4/16; The Center for Medical Progress, 8/12/15; Media Matters 8/12/15]
1. Exhibit A1: Alleged “Aborted Fetal Parts Order List”
Rep. Duffy: Exhibit A1 Shows “A Wishlist -- A Shopping List -- Being Sent From The Tissue Provider To The Abortion Technician.” In a statement introducing exhibit A1, an “aborted fetal parts order list,” to the record, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) argued that the form represented a “wishlist” or “a shopping list” that would be “sent from the tissue provider to the abortion technician.”
REP. SEAN DUFFY: Let's say -- and if can we go to exhibit A1 -- if we have someone who works for a tissue procurement business and they're corresponding with an abortion clinic technician and they're providing a wishlist of items that they're going to want to purchase -- things like liver, thymus, skin -- to be shipped by FedEx overnight whether to Harvard or UMass. So you have a wishlist -- a shopping list -- being sent from the tissue provider to the abortion technician. [Statement from Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives, 3/2/16]
CMP: “Aborted Fetal Parts Order List” Shows Evidence Of Intent To Purchase Fetal Tissue. According to CMP's website, one document found in the course of its investigation into Planned Parenthood was an “aborted fetal parts order list” from the procurement company StemExpress. CMP's website described the form as a “record” that “shows orders for fetal body parts from March 20 and March 21, 2013”:
This record from the StemExpress task page shows orders for fetal body parts for March 20 and March 21, 2013. 16 baby parts were ordered on 3/20, and 3 on 3/21. [Center for Medical Progress, Accessed March 2016]
Comparison Of Panel's Exhibit A1 And CMP Document Reveals They Are Identical:
2. Exhibit A2: Alleged “Procurement Compensation Schedule”
Rep. Duffy: Exhibit A2 Shows “A Procurement Compensation Schedule” Suggesting That “The More Specimens You Provide, The More Money You Make.” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) introduced exhibit A2, which he described as “a procurement compensation schedule” given to procurement technicians. Duffy argued the form demonstrated a “profit motive” because “the technician gets paid per specimen and the more specimens you provide, the more money you make”:
REP. SEAN DUFFY: If we could also go to exhibit A2. Here's a here's a procurement compensation schedule. So we see the technician gets paid per specimen and the more specimens you provide, the more money you make. And a side note -- I thought that there was no profit motive here -- I don't think that per specimen the cost goes up, but the more you provide the more money you make. Above your hourly wage, exhibit 2A. [Statement from Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives, 3/2/16]
CMP: “Bonus Structure For Baby Parts” Form Shows “Clear Evidence” Of Illegal Activity. CMP's website lists a “bonus structure for baby parts” form as among the documents discovered during the group's smear campaign. CMP argues that the form shows “clear evidence” that “StemExpress offers its procurement technicians bonuses” based on their efficacy at collecting particular types of fetal tissue:
StemExpress offers its procurement technicians bonuses based on the number of fetal specimens they can harvest, with higher bonuses for more valuable body parts. This is clear evidence of the “valuable consideration” exchanged for fetal tissue in violation of state and federal law. [Center for Medical Progress, Accessed March 2016]
Comparison Of Panel's Exhibit A2 And CMP Document Reveals They Are Identical:
3. Exhibit A3: Alleged Improper “Consent Form”
Rep. Hartzler: Exhibit A3 Shows “The Consent Form That Is Used In Some Of These Clinics” Violates “Mandate Against Inducement” To Donate Tissue. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced exhibit A3, which she described as “the consent form that is used in some of these [abortion] clinics.” Hartzler compared this consent form with the guidelines from the Belmont Report -- a Department of Health and Human Services report outlining subject consent guidelines for researchers -- to argue it was a violation of the report's “mandate against inducement.” Her conclusion, in other words, was that the consent form was misleading and that it coerced women into donating fetal tissue under false pretenses:
REP. VICKY HARTZLER: I'd like to put up exhibit E, excuse me start with exhibit D. ... The secretary of HHS issued the Belmont Report which says that consent is valid only if voluntarily given and that quote “inducements that would ordinarily be acceptable may become undue influences if the subject is especially vulnerable.” So if you could put up exhibit A3, the consent form that is used in some of these clinics. I would like to ask you, in your view does this form violate our government's own guidance in its inducement to women to consider an abortion -- especially with the promise and the statement in the very first opening of the consent form says, “Research using the blood from pregnant women and tissue that has been aborted has been used to treat and find a cure for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and AIDS” -- I'll say I lost my mother last year with Alzheimer's -- I'm not aware that there is a cure out there. This was news to me, and so, Mrs. Cunningham do you think that this consent form complies with HHS' mandate against inducement?" [Statement from Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives, 3/2/16]
Rep. Duffy: Exhibit A3 Shows “The Consent Form” Given To Patients Omits Information “That The Technician Has A Financial Interest” In Procuring Tissue From Abortions. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) also referenced exhibit A3 to make explicit his belief that “the consent form” was inadequate and failed to disclose “that the technician has a financial interest” in procuring tissue:
REP. SEAN DUFFY: And then if you go to exhibit A3, you have the consent form that the technician brings out to the mom going to consent for the abortion. And I would just note, if the panel would look at their exhibit A3, anywhere in there does it say that the technician has a financial interest, where they obtain $35 per specimen up to 10 specimens and $45 per specimen for those 11 to 20? Does it -- is financial incentive, is it shown in exhibit A2, or I'm sorry, A3? Can you look at that quickly?
Does that concern you? That we have the technician who is receiving the shopping list from the business and is also the person who's going to go in and obtain consent from the mom and there's a financial component to it? [Statement from Select Investigative Panel On Infant Lives, 3/2/16]
CMP: “Planned Parenthood Fetal Tissue Donation Form” Fails To Disclose “Financial Interest” In Procuring Fetal Tissue. Among the documents listed on CMP's website is a “Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donation form.” CMP described this form as the “patient consent form” used by Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which is in San Jose, CA, and criticized its failure to disclose the clinic's supposed “financial interest” in procuring a patient's fetal tissue:
This is the patient consent form for fetal tissue “donation” used at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. It is adapted from PPFA's standard fetal tissue form included in their national Manual of Medical Standards & Guidelines. It does not disclose to the patient Planned Parenthood's financial interest in her fetal tissue “donation.” [Center for Medical Progress, Accessed March 2016]
Exhibit A3 First Appeared In CMP Database And Video. Planned Parenthood Mar Monte's consent form was first associated with allegations of wrongdoing when it was featured in one of CMP's videos and listed on the organization's website. The consent form shown as exhibit A3 during the hearing mirrors one that had appeared in a CMP video. [Bioethics and Fetal Tissue Hearing, Document for the Record, Majority Exhibits, Accessed 3/4/16; The Center for Medical Progress, 8/12/15; Media Matters 8/12/15]