The day after the release of an undercover video, House Republicans promised they will “dig deep” into the potential illegal sale of fetal body parts for research and Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s involvement with it.
“There will be questions raised about what was legal and what was not legal. But above all, we believe Americans have a right to know what is occurring, and understand that that which is legal is not necessarily moral and ethical,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
“We will take all necessary steps to find out what happened here, who was involved and we will keep this investigation open until we get answers,” Mr. Murphy said, flanked by a dozen House Republican and Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.
“We will wait to see where those facts take us, but we will dig deep,” Mr. Murphy added.
Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican and Judiciary Committee Chairman, also acted Wednesday, sending a formal request to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to provide his committee with records related to fetal tissue, including the total costs incurred and revenue generated by Planned Parenthood’s provision of fetal tissue.
Mr. Grassley also wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking for a description of actions taken by the Department of Justice to ensure compliance with the federal law banning partial-birth abortion.
The actions come after a nearly three-hour undercover video was released Tuesday by the Center for Medical Progress. It shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, having lunch with two actors posing as buyers of fetal tissue.
Dr. Nucatola discusses the ordering and acquiring fetal body parts, and estimates that each specimen would cost between $30 and $100. She also described how abortion doctors like herself can “crush” one part of the unborn child but preserve another part so the desired organ, like a lung, heart or liver, can be kept intact. The fetuses may even be turned in-utero so that they come out feet first, minimizing damage to the fetal head and brain.
Planned Parenthood promptly said it receives “no financial benefit” from assisting women who want to donate their aborted fetuses for research. Actual costs, such as to transport tissue to research centers, are reimbursed at a standard rate, said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood.
He added that “false claims” about trafficking in fetal body parts have been made before, and they “fall apart on closer examination, just as they do in this case.”
Fetal tissue — obtained from miscarriages, stillbirths and abortions — has been legally used in research for decades.
The National Institutes of Health, which spent about $76 million in fiscal 2014 for projects involving fetal tissue, said it conducts research under its general legal authorities to “conduct biomedical research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”
Federal law prohibits the purchase of human fetal tissue, but permits “reasonable payment” for costs associated with the collection, processing, preservation, storage, quality control, or transportation of these tissues.
A woman donating the fetal tissue must sign a statement saying the donation is for research; the doctor must sign a statement before the abortion is performed that says the tissue will be obtained with the woman’s fully informed consent. The doctor must also sign a statement saying the “timing, method or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy” were not altered for the purpose of obtaining tissue for research.
Groups such as the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) and Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM) support the use of fetal tissue in research. Fetal cells contributed to the creation of polio and rubella vaccines, and may help treat diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Samuel Cohen has testified to Congress on behalf of the ASCB.
“The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine is adamantly opposed to any research conducted that does not conform to the highest legal and scientific standards,” Lyndsey Scull, director of communications for the ARM, said Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican; and House Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, were among the members calling for full hearings in the abortion industry and the fetal parts issue.
“Congress is right to use its oversight capacity to get to the bottom of this, and hold this organization accountable,” said Rep. Martha Roby, Alabama Republican.
“I don’t care how much political weight Planned Parenthood throws around this town,” she added. “No one is above the law.”