- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A state Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday making it a felony to sell the remains of aborted fetuses, legislation that comes in response to recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue for research.

Federal law already prohibits the sale of fetal tissue in matters of interstate commerce, but state law doesn’t specifically ban it. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, who offered the legislation, said the videos - although unrelated to North Carolina Planned Parenthood operations - highlight the need for North Carolina to step in.

“While federal law prohibits the sale or purchase of aborted fetal tissue, it has become apparent that policy can be circumvented,” Barefoot told the committee, adding the bill “seeks to provide some level of dignity to unborn children who have lost their lives due to an abortion.”

Members of Congress and other officials are investigating the content of videos released this summer by a California-based group. On the videos, Planned Parenthood officials discussed how they provide aborted fetal organs for research, which the Center for Medical Research contends shows Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from fetal tissue sales.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the videos were distorted to misrepresent conversations and that it did nothing illegal. Some Planned Parenthood clinics have donated the tissue or have been reimbursed to recoup their costs, which is legal.

Planned Parenthood in North Carolina doesn’t transfer fetal tissue from any of its clinics, Sarah Eldred, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said by email.

Melissa Reed, the executive director of the regional organization’s political arm, called the bill “nothing more than another political attack on safe and legal abortion in North Carolina” that’s being promoted by “extreme political groups” opposed to abortion.

The bill would make the sale of the remains the least-severe form of felony, which isn’t punishable by prison time on a first offense.

State health regulations currently direct how facilities permitted to terminate pregnancies and medical and research labs that receive the transferred remains of fetuses must dispose of them. That’s usually by burial or cremation, or in some cases, hospital incineration.

But a facility isn’t obligated to follow those rules if it sends remains to a medical or research lab. The bill removes that exception and appears to halt the transfer of such remains from abortion providers. A mother could still donate the remains of her unborn child by miscarriage for research.

No committee members voted against the measure, which heads to the Senate floor Thursday.

The bill also attempts to permanently ban giving state funds aimed at family planning, pregnancy prevention, or other similar programs to groups that perform abortions. A similar ban in the state budget only applies through mid-2017, and would appear to affect Planned Parenthood programs in Fayetteville and Wilmington.

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