News Politics

University Caves to Anti-Choice Pressure, Suspends Fetal Tissue Acquisition From Some Vendors

Jason Salzman

Despite the absence of evidence that Planned Parenthood broke any laws, the university has suspended fetal-tissue acquisitions from entities “implicated in the Planned Parenthood investigation.” But research will continue using tissue from other sources.

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

Despite the absence of evidence that Planned Parenthood violated any laws, Colorado State University (CSU) officials have suspended the school from acquiring fetal tissue from entities linked to Planned Parenthood until “Congressional investigations are concluded.”

CSU President Tony Frank made the decision in the wake of pressure from anti-choice Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), who demanded in a July 17 letter that the university stop the “purchases of aborted babies’ body parts” for use in research.

Lamborn cited 2013 documents apparently released by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, and promoted by LifeNews.com, an anti-choice website, showing that CSU acquired fetal tissue from a California company called StemExpress.

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The university, located in the town of Ft. Collins, about an hour from Denver, initially defended its use of fetal tissue in research and gave no indication that it would take action in response to Lamborn.

In a strongly-worded response email, the university stated that its fetal-tissue research complies with all regulations, and “CSU has used cells from fetal tissue samples as part of research to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.”

Fetal-tissue donations, the university email stated, “by their nature, inevitably come in the face of a difficult or tragic situation, and we believe they are made in the hope that they will do some good.”

CSU President Tony Frank backtracked somewhat in a July 23 letter to Lamborn, stating that he’d accepted the recommendations of the university’s Bioethics Advisory Committee to suspend the “acquisition of fetal tissue from StemExpress or other vendors implicated in the Planned Parenthood investigation pending the outcome of the Congressional investigation,” and “all efforts should be made to seek alternatives to aborted fetal tissue.”

A CSU spokesman, who provided background material on the fetal-tissue decision, declined to say whether the university had put any time limit on the “Congressional investigation” and how the university would evaluate the “outcome” of such investigations.

The university spokesman declined to say if CSU was alleging any legal wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, in light of the fact that no such wrongdoing has been demonstrated.

“Indiana and Massachusetts have completely cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, and the makers of these videos are under a restraining order in California,” said Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. “It’s unfortunate that CSU chose not to wait until the facts were in and the agenda behind it. I would hope as more details emerge about the misleading nature of the recent videos, that CSU will reinstate the program for the sake of public health and medical research.”

Lamborn, who introduced a bill last week to halt all use of fetal tissue resulting from an “induced abortion” in medical research, issued a statement saying CSU’s actions were insufficient.

“These steps are definitely headed in the right direction. However, they simply aren’t far enough,” Lamborn wrote in a statement. “I call on President Frank to commit to no longer using aborted babies’ body parts in research. There are profound ethical, moral, and legal questions with this practice that deeply trouble many Coloradans.”

In its report to Frank, CSU’s Bioethics Advisory Committee wrote of the CSU’s fetal-tissue research: “The research has produced significant results regarding HIV infection, pathogenesis, and treatments, and has resulted in many research publications over the lifetime of the projects. In the course of the research, many students have been trained and supported as part of the land grant mission of CSU. All of the research performed was executed under the appropriate human and animal use committee requirements and reviewed by relevant CSU committees to assure compliance with federal regulations.”

News Abortion

Blackburn Punts on Next Steps in Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

What are the next steps for the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into a market of aborted “baby body parts” that according to all other accounts—three other congressional committees, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury—doesn’t exist?

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said she had not decided on the topic of the next hearing, nor whether to subpoena the leader of the anti-choice front group fueling the investigation.

“We’ll have something that we’ll look at in September, but no decisions [yet],” Blackburn said in a July 14 interview with Rewire.

Blackburn’s remarks followed a press conference coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the first Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos that still serve as the basis for the $1.2 million investigation.

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“We’re continuing to pursue [options], we have a tremendous amount of information that has come through to us through whistleblowers and individuals, so we’ll continue to work,” she said.

Congress adjourned for a seven-week recess the day after Blackburn presented House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) with the panel’s interim update, which repeats many of the same widely discredited allegations from CMP and other anti-choice groups cited in the document.

The panel will release a final report by the end of the year. That’s the only definitive next step in an investigation that started with allegedly falsified evidence of fetal tissue trafficking and pivoted in recent months to later abortion care, including subpoenaing a prominent provider and calling for a state-level criminal investigation of a university and abortion clinic supposedly in collusion.

Blackburn would not commit to subpoenaing David Daleiden, the CMP leader under felony indictment in Texas and the subject of lawsuits in California. Republicans’ interim update called Daleiden an “investigative journalist,” even though more than two dozen of the nation’s preeminent journalists and journalism scholars recently filed an amicus brief explaining why that isn’t so in the federal court case between CMP and the National Abortion Federation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine any decisions,” Blackburn said about the possibility of a Daleiden appearance before the panel. “We’re an investigative panel. We’re going go where the facts take us.”

The interim update indicates that the investigation will continue to focus on later abortion care. Blackburn, however, deflected questions about targeting later abortion care in her interview with Rewire.

Blackburn seemingly walked back the pledge she made at a faith-based conference last month to pursue contempt of Congress charges for “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion”—who she alleged have not cooperated with her subpoenas. Blackburn’s panel spokesperson previously told Rewire that the panel required the names of those involved in fetal tissue transactions and research in order to understand how things work.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the subpoenas, escalating their concerns after Blackburn initially failed to redact researchers’ names and contact information in her call for a federal abortion inquiry.

“We’re going to pursue getting the truth and delivering a report that is factual, that is truthful, and can be utilized by the authorizing committees,” Blackburn said in response to a question about the contempt charges at the press conference.

Blackburn and her fellow Republicans had no such reservations about going after Democrats on the panel.  They accused Democrats of furnishing subpoena recipients with a memo to subvert requests for information. The final pages of the interim update includes a chart alleging the extent to which various organizations, hospitals, procurement companies, abortion providers, and others have or have not complied with the subpoenas.

Emails obtained by Rewire show a Democratic staffer refuting such accusations last month. Democrats produced their own status update for members, not a memo advising noncompliance for subpoena recipients, the staffer said in a June email to a Republican counterpart on the panel.

News Abortion

Exclusive: House GOP Budgets $1.2 Million for Anti-Choice ‘Witch Hunt’

Christine Grimaldi

The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress videos.

Congressional Republicans investigating widely discredited claims about fetal tissue trafficking and abortion expect to spend $1.2 million on the anti-choice crusade by the end of the year.

The figure represents the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ total estimated budget for calendar year 2016, a high-ranking GOP aide in the U.S. House of Representatives told Rewire. The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos, dubbed by Democratic legislators as a “witch hunt.”

Contrary to the anti-choice front group’s allegations, three prior congressional inquiries and 13 states to date have found no evidence that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

Even as the aide revealed the scope of Republicans’ spending, more questions emerged about when and how they are getting taxpayer money.

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The Committee on House Administration has tapped nearly 80 percent of the chamber’s funding reserves, approving $790,000 for the investigation, split two-thirds and one-third between Republicans and Democrats. The committee initially transferred $300,000 to the panel in 2015, which was only for that year.

Excluding the 2015 transfer, the 2016 budget shortfall totals about $710,000. Including the transfer, about $410,000.

Republicans, however, anticipate a roughly $450,000 shortfall, according to the aide, who acknowledged that they have yet to figure out how they would make up the shortfall. Details about potential funding sources could not be immediately ascertained, though the aide said Republicans would have to produce the funding no later than December 1.

Several options exist for GOP lawmakers. Republicans could earmark the money in an increasingly likely continuing resolution, which would fund the overall U.S. government in the absence of viable appropriations bills. However, that would require U.S. Senate passage—hardly a guarantee with such a controversial rider, according to a House Democratic aide.

Republicans could amend the initial resolution creating the panel and bring it back to the floor, the Democratic aide told Rewire. Resolutions only require passage by one chamber, the aide said, providing a more failsafe option.

Another possibility is for Republicans to draw from the budget of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the panel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, denounced the investigation following the disclosure of taxpayer dollars behind it.

“Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars recycling inflammatory and thoroughly discredited allegations of anti-abortion extremists,” Schakowsky told  Rewire in an email. “The Select Panel started with a lie, and has been conducted to perpetuate that lie through manufactured, misleading ‘evidence’ and suppression of facts that run contrary to the Republicans’ predetermined narrative. It would be bad enough if this were just a waste of taxpayer time and money. But this Panel is putting women’s health care and life-saving research at risk. America deserves better. Speaker Ryan can and should stop this witch hunt now.”

In a July 14 interview with Rewire, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a once outspoken proponent of fetal tissue research, didn’t know how much, if any, committee funding has gone toward the select panel’s work. Upton referred Rewire to a committee spokesperson, who did not reply to requests for comment.

Select panel Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) similarly could not answer Rewire’s funding inquiries at a July 14 press conference providing an interim update on the investigation a year after the release of the first CMP videos. Blackburn deferred to Republican leadership regarding how much financial support Energy and Commerce may have provided the panel beyond the House’s reserve coffers.

“At this point, that is what we have,” she said.

Republican leaders have been increasingly vocal in their support for the panel. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in June said he trusts Blackburn to conduct the anti-choice investigation, though researchers said she jeopardized their privacy, safety, and job security through unredacted documents. Ryan cited the need for the panel’s work in response to Rewire’s funding questions at his July 14 press conference.

“We want this committee to keep doing its job, doing its work, they have [a] very important job to do,” he said.

Ryan elaborated on his support for the panel in a subsequent video, “We Are the Pro-Life Generation.”

“The panel found these weren’t isolated incidents—there’s an entire black market in aborted baby body parts,” he said. “And some of it is receiving taxpayer funding.”

Blackburn and other Republicans on the panel have made numerous references to “baby body parts” despite the link between such rhetoric and escalating anti-choice violence.