Congressional investigation finds proof businesses are profiting—illegally—from fetal tissue trade
By Evan Wilt
Amid growing optimism surrounding fetal tissue research in 1993, Congress lifted the ban on obtaining samples from abortion centers. The move was a bipartisan effort and included many safeguards designed to ensure the sale of baby body parts never became a money-making business.
According to evidence obtained from tissue procurement companies, those safeguards failed.
The House panel released the new documents ahead of its second congressional hearing. The papers show middleman businesses, separate from abortion centers and research facilities, profit between 300 and 400 percent from each sample of fetal tissue sold.
Last summer, undercover videos collected by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress showed abortion facilities might be part of a fetal tissue procurement network designed to profit from the sale of baby body parts.
Congress established the House panel in October to investigate questions raised by the videos, including federal funding and support for abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, and the ethics and policies surrounding fetal tissue procurement.
The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 reversed the ban on fetal tissue transplantation research procurement. At that time, two competing amendments in the House offered safeguards on the operation—one filed by former Rep. Thomas Bliley Jr., R-Va., and one by former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman’s version eventfully won out, creating the guidelines for how fetal tissue procurement should work.
“It would be abhorrent to allow for a sale of fetal tissue and a market to be created for that sale,” Waxman said during floor debates.
To ensure abortion centers would not suffer from the added cost of providing tissue samples to researchers, the statute allowed for reimbursements equal to related expenditures.
Congress crafted a non-profit model that allowed researchers to pay abortion centers and abortionists equal to the amount of transportation, storage, or other costs related to the process. Waxman even included a 10-year felony charge in the statute for anyone who violated the system.
After investigating one of the procurement businesses that can only operate legally as a non-profit middleman, the panel found its annual revenue grew from $9,000 in 2010 to more than $6 million in 2014. The panel did not make the company’s name public.
The business operates by taking orders from researchers and partnering with abortion centers to keep its supply in stock. In 2010, the procurement business had three partner abortion centers, and before the undercover videos came out, it was on track to have about 300 by 2016.
The panel will argue today that a business cannot grow at that torrid pace without making a profit.
But many continue to question the validity of those concerns.
Last week during a town hall hosted by MSNBC, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd told Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz the scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood and procurement businesses was “made up.”
“Let me tell you what there is no controversy about, it is a federal crime—a felony with a 10-year prison term—to sell the body parts of unborn children for profit,” Cruz retorted. “Listen, even if you’re pro-choice, selling the body parts of unborn children as a commercial endeavor is a horrifying thing.”
During the panel’s first hearing, Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., called one fetal tissue procurement business “the Amazon.com for human parts.”
The panel saved several screen grabs from recently shuttered websites that allowed customers to add baby organs such as brains, hearts, lungs, and livers to virtual shopping carts. Customers could select how many samples of each they wanted and from what gestational periods. Prices were highest for babies at 14-19 weeks gestation.
At least one company hired procurement technicians for $10 an hour—plus $30 for each sale—to do the leg work of rounding up parts at abortion centers.
Technicians would visit partnered abortion centers at the beginning of the week and match orders from customers to the list of women scheduled for abortions. The technicians asked women to sign a consent form, collected the baby’s remains after the abortion, and packaged and shipped the order to customers.
“The procurement techs are promised bonuses for particular baby parts, with stomachs, bladders, and lungs resulting in a higher per-item bonus than ears, kidneys, or tongues,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, who viewed the panel’s research. “This barbarism degrades our nation and violates federal laws against such profiteering. We commend the select panel for its investigative work thus far and call on the Department of Justice to take immediate action.”
One procurement business invoice showed direct costs associated with gathering tissue from a baby’s brain at about $300. The costs included paying the procurement technicians an hourly wage, plus $30 for securing the sample, paying the abortion center $50 for access to the sample, and transportation costs.
The company sold brain samples to customers for more than $3,000 each.