- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cecile Richards’ longstanding insistence that Planned Parenthood has never profited from fetal-tissue sales drew scrutiny Wednesday as House Republicans noted that abortion clinics essentially get paid for doing nothing.

As a result, three former federal prosecutors testified that a federal investigation is warranted into whether a California medical procurement company and abortion clinics are illegally profiting from aborted fetal tissue.

Most of the tasks associated with fetal-tissue donations are undertaken by biotech employees involved with nearly every stage of the abortion process, from obtaining consent from patients beforehand to sifting through and shipping post-abortive fetal organs, according to documents unearthed by the panel’s majority staff.

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“The select panel investigation reveals every conceivable harvesting task is performed by the technician employed by the procurement business,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. “And so procurement businesses, essentially the middleman, are paying fees to abortion clinics, but the abortion clinics are incurring no costs.”

The panel’s second hearing, titled “The Pricing of Fetal Tissue,” focused on whether abortion clinics and procurement businesses are violating federal law, which permits clinics to be reimbursed for costs associated with the donation of fetal tissue for medical research but specifically forbids “valuable consideration.”

House Democrats called into question the accuracy of the exhibits — Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado called them “misleading” — and noted that 12 states have opted not to prosecute Planned Parenthood after looking at the undercover videos produced in the past year by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress.

“From the outset, this investigation has not been an objective or fact-based search for the truth but a political weapon to attack women’s health care and life-saving research and harass and intimidate those who provide these services,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, the panel’s ranking member.

The majority report included copies of brochures from a procurement company, whose name was redacted but whom several members identified as California biotech firm StemExpress, describing the relationship as “financially profitable.”

Mr. Pitts noted that the company’s website has a dropdown feature allowing buyers to choose a preferred body part and gestational period.

He pointed to bills showing the abortion clinic charged the biotech company for tissue and blood $11,365 in August 2010 and $9,060 in February 2011.

“For crying out loud, this is the Amazon.com of baby body parts,” said Mr. Pitts. “There is a market for baby body parts and you get what you pay for. This is absolutely repulsive.”

Democrats argued that no state has brought charges against Planned Parenthood or any other provider despite issues raised in the explosive videos, but the three prosecutors said a federal investigation is still warranted.

“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,” said Brian P. Lennon, a former federal prosecutor in Michigan and Virginia.

He cited exhibits, including billing information, consent forms and brochures, unearthed in a majority staff investigation.

Kenneth W. Sukhia, former U.S. attorney for North Florida, said that the evidence in the exhibits “justifies a thorough investigation.”

“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 to determine if such practices violate the felony provisions of [the statute],” Mr. Sukhia said.

Federal law forbids anyone from “knowingly” acquiring, receiving or transferring “any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration.”

The term “valuable consideration” excludes “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Michael Norton testified that the videos released last year show Planned Parenthood officials “may well have violated [the statute] and, if so, there should be some accountability on the part of the wrongdoers.”

On the other hand, Robert Raben, former Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said there was “no evidence” that infant fetal tissue from abortion had been sold in violation of federal law.

“Further, I am confident that any acts of intentional misbehavior would be investigated and punished by law enforcement, both federal and state,” said Mr. Raben, who formerly served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.

Democrats entered into the record a letter from StemExpress attorneys asking to have the documents withdrawn based on questions about their “authenticity and validity.”

“The reason why I’m kind of stuck on this is if people are selling fetal-tissue in violation of law, we need to get the bottom of it, we need to find it out,” said Ms. DeGette. “But we can’t just have some witch-hunt based on some things that were taken off of screenshots.”

Democrats also asked why the panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, had not called on StemExpress to testify.

She said that the company had refused a request for banking records.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, raised concerns about whether abortion clinics are violating federal privacy laws, specifically the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), by allowing company technicians access to patient medical records.

Using information from the procurement company’s records, Ms. Black, a nurse, walked the panel through the hypothetical day of a tissue technician, from reviewing a list of needed body parts and gestational periods to packing up and shipping the tissue and blood to the research facility.

“As I walked you through her day, there’s nothing to indicate that the abortion clinic has incurred any expenses,” Ms. Black said.

Mr. Raburn and Fay Clayton, attorney for the Anatomical Gift Foundation, said expenses absorbed by abortion clinics could include items such as sterilizing equipment, doing bloodwork on the patient and providing the facility, including paying rent and energy bills for the clinic.

The former prosecutors testifying at the hearing said a forensic accounting would be needed to determine whether companies or clinics had engaged in wrongdoing. Committee members said they were unaware of any Justice Department investigation.

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