House Republicans claim to have new evidence that abortion providers are illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation -- but a stem-cell research company says that evidence appears to have been manipulated.
Republicans presented documents at a hearing on Wednesday that they say show Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers using fetal tissue donations as a moneymaking scheme. But they would not reveal the source or context of those documents -- even to their Democratic colleagues sitting on the same investigative committee.
Republicans on the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which was established in response to a series of highly manipulated videos purportedly showing Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts after abortions, brought exhibits to the hearing that appear to be marketing materials for an unnamed fetal tissue procurement company. The documents show the company promoting itself to abortion clinics as a way to expand their profits.
Under federal law, abortion clinics can receive reasonable reimbursements for the costs of donating fetal tissue to medical research companies, but Republicans believe providers are misusing the practice to line their pockets.
“This does not sound to me like tissue donation for research," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chairwoman of the panel, after presenting the documents. "This sounds like someone who wants to make money -- a lot of money -- selling baby body parts."
Democrats said the documents, which were presented with the company's name redacted, were probably stolen and manipulated by David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind the Planned Parenthood videos who was recently indicted by a grand jury in Texas for tampering with a governmental record. Daleiden created a fake driver's license and fake identity to gain access to medical conferences and secretly recorded Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donations. The Texas grand jury, which was initially convened to investigate Daleiden's claims against Planned Parenthood, cleared the family planning organization of any wrongdoing.
According to a spokeswoman for the panel, Democrats have repeatedly asked their GOP colleagues where the documents came from -- but the Republicans have not explained the documents' source. Republicans also declined to question Daleiden himself under oath at the hearing.
After the hearing, StemExpress, a fetal tissue procurement company that worked with Planned Parenthood, issued a statement saying the documents presented as evidence by Republicans look similar to documents that Daleiden stole from StemExpress.
"To date, we have provided over 2,000 pages of documents to the various Senate and House Committees—including nearly 900 pages of materials to the Select Panel—and have offered witnesses who are willing to testify under oath to answer questions about fetal tissue procurement and pricing. To date, none of these individuals have been scheduled to provide deposition testimony," the statement reads.
In addition, the company does not profit from fetal tissue research, but rather "incurs substantial losses each year to support fetal tissue research," the statement said.
“This hearing is based on a house of cards,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “The exhibits being used are in all likelihood the product of a theft carried out by someone who is now under indictment in Texas and whose home has been the subject of a court-ordered search in California. Is this hearing really going to proceed based on stolen and misleading documents?"
Democrats also criticized their colleagues for threatening the useful practice of fetal tissue research, which was key in discovering the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a severe birth defect. Without debate or vote, Republicans on the investigative panel last month issued subpoenas requesting the names of fetal tissue researchers and staffers at abortion clinics that donate the tissue -- a move that critics say could put targets on the backs of those individuals.
At a hearing earlier this year, Blackburn would not answer her colleagues' questions about why she needed to make the names of researchers public. Democrats compared the investigation to a "witch hunt."
"This investigation has never been and has no promise of becoming fair or fact-based," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said at the hearing. "Our Republican colleagues’ disdain for the facts –- and for women and their doctors –- is putting researchers, doctors, and women at risk. It is time for Republican leadership to bring this investigation to an end."
This article has been updated with a statement from StemExpress.