Republicans on a special House panel investigating the transfer of fetal tissue from aborted babies pointed to a series of documents in a hearing today to allege that an abortion provider and middleman procurement company may have broken federal law.
Three former prosecutors backed those allegations, saying documents that Republican members released as evidence demonstrate “probable cause” that federal statutes against profiting by fetal tissue had been violated.
“Based on my review of the exhibits, a competent, ethical federal prosecutor could establish probable cause that both the abortion clinics and the procurement business violated the statute, aided and abetted one another in violating the statute, and likely conspired together to violate the statute,” Brian P. Lennon, a former federal prosecutor in Michigan and Virginia, testified.
“Accounting and marketing materials from the fetal tissue procurement business demonstrate beyond question that there is more than sufficient cause to support a full investigation by federal authorities,” added Kenneth W. Sukhia, former U.S. attorney for North Florida.
The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives held the hearing, titled “The Pricing of Fetal Tissue.” The panel was formed after the pro-life group Center for Medical Progress last year released a string of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood clinics, raising questions about whether entities illegally profit in the fetal tissue market.
The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act prohibits profiting from the sale of any fetal tissue. However, it is legal to provide and accept payment to cover reasonable costs for “transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”
Marketing materials presented in the House panel’s document bundle showed an unnamed procurement company marketing itself as “financially profitable.” The documents also show the amounts of money exchanged among abortion clinics, middleman procurement companies, and research institutions.
Republicans say the documents suggest that abortion clinics bore none of the costs associated with the tissue donation process, so it doesn’t make sense for them to receive checks amounting to thousands of dollars a month.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., the ranking member on the House panel, called the documents “false.” In her opening statement, Schakowsky said Republicans are using the investigation as a “political weapon to attack women’s health care and life-saving research and harass and intimidate those who provide these services.”
Schakowsky and other Democrats argued that Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates had been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple investigations. She said:
Some continue to declare that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue for profit despite the fact that three House committees, 12 states, and a Texas grand jury have already cleared the organization of wrongdoing. These witnesses—like our Republican colleagues—endorse and rely upon the video allegations of anti-abortion extremist David Daleiden [the head of the Center for Medical Progress] and his associates to support their inflammatory claims.
Robert Raben, a Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in the Clinton administration, called the documents “misleading.” He said “none of the documents Republicans are showing contain any evidence of wrongdoing.”
Raben also accused Republicans of “knowingly endangering people’s lives” in the investigation.
In an earlier interview with The Daily Signal, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chairman of the House panel, told The Daily Signal that investigators kept the sources of the documents confidential “out of an abundance of caution” for the safety of individuals and entities involved.
Blackburn and her colleagues said they reached that decision after some Democrats and medical researchers accused Republicans on embarking on a “witch hunt” and amassing a “dangerous database of names.”
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., used the information obtained by the panel’s investigators to take members through a “day in the life” of a tissue procurement technician. That technician, according to the House panel, was employed by an unnamed company.
“As I walked you through her day, there’s nothing to indicate the abortion clinic has incurred any expenses,” Black, a former nurse, said.
Democrats argued this notion is “pure speculation” and that the hearing “belongs in a bad episode of ‘House of Cards.’”
“Even Frank Underwood would be blushing at this point,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said.