News Politics

Congressman Touts Stem-Cell Lab Tour Despite Opposing Stem-Cell Research

Jason Salzman

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s widely seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress, touted his visit to a stem-cell laboratory even though he’s on record opposing research with embryonic stem cells, which are used in the lab he toured.

Rep. Mike Coffman is on record opposing embryonic stem-cell research, but that didn’t stop the Colorado Republican from touring a stem-cell laboratory at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and tweeting, “Happy to get the chance to tour the Stem Cell Research facility.”

A spokesman for the school, which is located in Coffman’s district, confirmed that the stem-cell facility visited by Coffman November 8 uses stem cells obtained from human embryos.

In 2008 and 2010, Coffman supported Colorado’s failed “personhood” initiatives, which aimed to define life as beginning at conception, when embryos form, and would have banned not only embryonic stem-cell research but also all abortions and some common forms of birth control.

Coffman’s November 8 tweet about his tour of the stem-cell facility included a photo of the Congressman viewing laboratory machines.

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“This is a ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ situation,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email offering a response to Coffman’s tweet. “Mike Coffman’s support for anti-choice personhood measures and his opposition to stem-cell research don’t really fit here. If he is sincere about supporting women and science, he needs to issue a statement about his new policy position, not just stage a photo-op.”

Coffman’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Coffman’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research was spotlighted in a political advertisement by the House Majority Project during the 2012 election, which Coffman won by a 2 percent margin over Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi.

A fact check of the ad by 9News, Denver’s local NBC affiliate, confirmed Coffman’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.

9News reported, “This year, Congressman Coffman was asked point blank by Colorado Right to Life, ‘Will you oppose any research or practice that would intentionally destroy the tiniest living humans, embryonic stem cell research?’ With a pen he wrote, ‘Yes.'”

9News also reported, “A spokesperson says, he isn’t against stem-cell research in general, just embryonic, because the cells are harvested from embryos, and he says, that is a human life.”

Responding to Coffman’s position, Rep. Diana Degette (D-CO) said last year, “If a candidate like Mike Coffman says, ‘I don’t support embryonic stem cell research but I support other types,’ that’s not supporting the full range of ethical stem cell research, which could block off research into some diseases and would impede the progress of the research in general.”

University of Colorado School of Medicine spokesperson Mark Couch said that the university’s stem-cell laboratory, called the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology, mostly relies on induced pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from adult stem cells, though embryonic stem cells are also used.

“The [embryonic stem-cell] lines that have been approved by the federal government are used for comparison purposes with the induced pluripotent stem cells,” said Couch.

Coffman’s congressional seat is widely seen as one of the most competitive in the country, after it was re-drawn after the 2010 Census. Political observers here expect the stem-cell issue to come into play again next year, as it did in 2012, as Coffman and his Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff vie for the support of moderates, especially women and Hispanics, whose votes will likely decide the election.

News Abortion

Colorado GOP Leader: More Planned Parenthood Investigations After Shooting

Jason Salzman

Three days after the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg vowed to continue to demand that Colorado’s chief medical officer investigate whether Planned Parenthood has broken state laws related to fetal tissue research.

Read more of our articles on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting here.

Last week’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs will not stop the state senate’s assistant Republican majority leader from continuing to investigate the health organization based on discredited, surreptitiously recorded attack videos.

In a Facebook post three days after the shooting, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) vowed to continue to demand that Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), investigate whether Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) has broken state laws related to fetal tissue research.

Lundberg contends that PPRM should be investigated based on evidence in highly edited, widely discredited videos published by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP officials have worked closely with GOP legislators this year to smear and defund the health-care organization.

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Officials from CDPHE and Colorado’s attorney general Cynthia Coffman have declined to investigate.

Lundberg said on Facebook that he has “specific questions” that he intends to ask Wolk at a meeting of the Colorado Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, which Lundberg chairs.

When Wolk appeared before a legislative committee to answer budget questions, Lundberg questioned Wolk about why his state agency wouldn’t investigate the discredited videos’ claims that Planned Parenthood violated federal fetal tissue laws.

“We did not see any connection to Colorado,” Wolk responded to Lundberg’s question, according to a report in the Durango Herald.

The budget hearing came as funeral preparations were underway in Colorado Springs for the police officer and two civilians who were killed in the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic.

“I finally had a brief opportunity to question the Colorado Health Department director, Dr. Wolk, concerning his department’s failure to thoroughly investigate possible violations of Colorado law concerning fetal tissue trafficking,” Lundberg wrote on Facebook.

Last month, at an “informational hearing” focused on attacking Planned Parenthood, Lundberg expressed outrage that Wolk or a representative from CDPHE had declined to testify.

Lundberg had since vowed to force Wolk to testify about the Planned Parenthood smear videos during the legislative session that begins in January. Lundberg wrote on Facebook that Wolk agreed on Monday to answer questions at a hearing or any time prior.

“This despite his refusal to come or send anyone from his department to the RSCC Fetal Tissue Trafficking Hearing held on November 9,” Lundberg wrote on Facebook.

Colorado pro-choice activists on Tuesday pointed to the rhetoric at the November 9 hearing, which repeatedly spotlighted the discredited videos, as contributing to the November 27 murders in Colorado Springs.

Lundberg wasn’t cited by the activists, but his fellow Colorado legislators, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), and state Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) were named at the news conference as stoking violence directed at Planned Parenthood in recent months.

A spokesman for CDPHE told the Colorado Statesman in August that the department has “no current plans to inquire of Planned Parenthood or any other entity concerning alleged transfers of fetal tissue.”

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin Republicans Advance Fetal Tissue Research Ban

Teddy Wilson

The state's GOP lawmakers looking to stop fetal tissue research have met opposition from both the medical community and Wisconsin's powerful business lobby.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

A Wisconsin bill that would ban the use of fetal tissue in scientific research was passed by a committee Tuesday, and continued the recent Republican-led assault on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood.

The bill would prohibit “certain sales and uses of fetal body parts derived from an unborn child aborted by an induced abortion.” An amendment to the bill would outlaw research using tissue obtained from any aborted fetus since the beginning of 2015.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin does not have a fetal tissue donation program.

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The Senate Health Committee approved the legislation in a 3-2 vote along partisan lines. The legislation was previously passed by an assembly committee, and Republicans in both chambers plan to bring the bill up for a vote this fall.

Republicans hold a 62-36 majority in the assembly and a 19-14 majority in the senate. The GOP’s charge to halt fetal tissue research now faces opposition from a traditional ally: the state’s business lobby.

Kurt Bauer, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that the trade group would oppose the bill.

“As the state Chamber of Commerce, WMC has members in all sectors of the economy, including bio-tech and bioscience. Those members have expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on their ability to conduct medical research,” Bauer said.

This places the state’s business lobby and anti-choice activists on opposite sides, leaving Republicans who are typically supported by both groups to consider their options.

“No one really knew or expected that, I think, and when they did, certainly it’s something I think many members will take into account,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told the Capital Times.

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), who introduced the bill, told the Wisconsin Radio Network that he was caught off guard by the business lobby’s decision. “It was not something that I was forewarned about, either in terms of my colleagues in the Assembly or with WMC,” Jacque said.

Jacque said he introduced AB 305, which is similar to another bill he introduced in 2013, in response to secretly recorded and heavily edited videos attacking Planned Parenthood.

The publication of videos featuring surreptitiously recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and biomedical companies discussing fetal tissue donation policies has led to outrage from anti-choice activists and lawmakers, even as those deceptive videos have been largely discredited. GOP-launched investigations into Planned Parenthood’s use of fetal tissue have turned up no wrongdoing.

Supporters of the bill say that scientific research, no matter how beneficial, should not be conducted using fetal tissue obtained from abortions. “Using the body parts from the murder of an unborn child for the economy or for research … is unethical,” Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) said, reported the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, testified during an assembly committee hearing that AB 305 would shut down life-saving research and poison the climate for investment in biomedical innovation.

“The word is already out on street that Wisconsin is not the place for science or biomedical research,” Golden said. “We need to turn that around.”

Fetal tissue research has led to vaccines for polio, hepatitis A, chickenpox, rubella, and rabies. That hasn’t stopped abortion opponents from questioning the research’s importance in medical breakthroughs, and they instead advocate for continued use of stem cells.

The bill is opposed by both university and private researchers, and the state’s largest business group also opposes the bill.

Democrats who opposed the legislation argued that Republicans’ inability to compromise illustrated a fundamental problem with the party. “If you’re not open to compromise about that, your party has really driven off a cliff,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) told Republicans, reported the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The debate over the bill comes as Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) saying its affiliates would no longer request reimbursement for donation of fetal tissue, instead covering the costs of preserving and transporting the tissues on its own.

Jacque said that Planned Parenthood’s decision proved Republicans were justified in pushing the proposal and that the organization’s policy change would not affect his position on the issue.

Republican lawmakers are also targeting Planned Parenthood with two other pieces of legislation.

One bill would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal money for family planning services and divert it to different groups, and another bill aims to restrict how much Planned Parenthood could be reimbursed for certain prescription drugs. The committee passed both Republican measures Tuesday.

The proposals would reduce public funds to Planned Parenthood by a combined $7.5 million per year.

Erpenbach said he has not seen an adequate plan for how the state Department of Health Services would ensure that recipients are still able to access services after Planned Parenthood loses the funding.

It remains unclear how many lawmakers in the chamber will support the fetal tissue ban. Fitzgerald told the Capital Times that use of fetal tissue is a “difficult issue” and that the Republican caucus is attempting to reach an agreement between lawmakers in the assembly and the senate, as well as with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.