Prolife members of Congress are pushing for hearings as early as this spring on the issue of trafficking in fetal body parts. The hearings, stemming from a voice vote last November, will study a little-known loophole that circumvents federal laws banning the commercial sale of human body parts. The hearings may also shed light on a controversial part of the American abortion industry: the fate of second- and third-trimester premature infants who are aborted with their vital organs and limbs intact, allowing for use by biomedical researchers. At the center of the allegations is the controversial Kelly, the pseudonym for a former employee of the Anatomic Gift Foundation (AGF), which is headquartered in Maryland with regional offices in Colorado and Arizona. The firm specializes in obtaining human organs and limbs for researchers across the United States. Kelly says her job, as on-site representative for AGF at an unidentified Planned Parenthood affiliate, was to dissect bodies, sometimes living, and ship the parts to researchers, usually under an innocuous name such as "biomedical specimens."Kelly says she would get a daily list of the parts researchers wanted (eyes, livers, brains), and she understood that she was to procure the best, defect-free specimens. She says that each week she would see about 30 or 40 fetuses at around seven months' gestation and that several at various ages of gestation would be born alive. She alleges that a staff physician would kill any such newborn. Kelly claims that after an incident in early 1997 she developed profound misgivings about her work. A physician wanted her to dissect twins of five and one-half months who had just been aborted but were not yet dead. She immediately protested. In response, the physician poured sterile water over the infants to drown them. Could Kelly's horrifying account be a hoax? Even staunch prolife leaders are taking a cautious approach, especially because Mark Crutcher—president of Life Dynamics, the Denton, Texas-based prolife group promoting Kelly's story—refuses to make her available. Crutcher claims that Kelly would be in danger if her identity was disclosed publicly. Life Dynamics has produced a videotape of Kelly's story in which her voice is disguised and her back is to the camera.Brenda Bardsley, one of AGF's founders, denies that AGF has done anything illegal and questions Kelly's credibility, according to WorldNetDaily, a Web-based conservative news service. All of Kelly's allegations might be easily dismissible, except for one thing: After what she describes as a change of heart following the incident with the twins, Kelly provided Crutcher with protocols, or purchase orders, from medical researchers, dated 1988 through 1998. Life Dynamics paid Kelly an undisclosed amount for her information, which included names and addresses of the researchers receiving the parts, and the age, condition, and state of freshness the researchers specified. Life Dynamics released these documents to the public last May. Doug Johnson, National Right to Life's legislative director, has not always agreed with Crutcher on prolife strategies. But, Johnson says, "As far as what's there, it's authentic. Journalists have gone to interview some of the same individuals. None of them have denied, so far as I know, that these are authentic documents."Concerning Kelly's allegations apart from the documentary evidence she has supplied, Johnson says, "Everybody has to make up their own judgment about what she claims to have seen."The release of the documents sparked greater interest among prolife members of Congress in hearings. Senator Bob Smith (R-N.H.), an original author of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Bill in 1995, brought forward evidence last October that there is a successful trade in fetal body parts from abortions. During a 1999 debate on partial-birth abortions, Smith read to his colleagues from a brochure that advertised the prices for body parts by type. Smith attempted but failed to enact a measure that would require reporting and disclosure of the trade in fetal body parts. But in November, the House approved a "Sense of Congress" resolution sponsored by Reps. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). That resolution asks the House to conduct hearings this year on "private companies that are involved in the trafficking of baby body parts," and to recommend legislative changes that would prevent such trafficking. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, was among the few House members to speak out against the resolution. "We need to be mindful of the benefits that legal fetal tissue research has brought," she told fellow representatives. But she did note that if any illegal activity is occurring, the House Commerce Committee should investigate. Rich Cizik, vice president of Govern mental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, says the Clinton administration has given its blessing to this use of fetal remains from abortions."The administration position at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] advisory committee level is that there ought to be [federal] funding of fetal-tissue research," Cizik says. "They lifted the ban. Abuse is something they should have anticipated. If they see nothing wrong in carving up human beings and selling their parts for profit, then nothing would embarrass them."
Kelly is not the only valuable information source to be unavailable for questioning about trafficking in fetal body parts. Miles Jones, a pathologist and reportedly head of Opening Lines, a fetal-tissue procurement organization, has closed his operation in West Frankfort, Illinois, not far from St. Louis. Jones founded Opening Lines after breaking with AGF. He apparently pulled up stakes last September, after a local Illinois newspaper published an article about Opening Lines trafficking in fetal body parts. Kelly and Miles Jones would have a good reason to avoid public scrutiny. What Kelly claims to have witnessed would, in some cases, be murder or manslaughter, says Sam Casey, executive director of the Christian Legal Society. "In the United States, even if an abortion is intended, if the child is alive and not dead, you've got to do everything you can to try to save that child," he says. In addition, Life Dynamics itself has found a new spotlight on its controversial operations because of its reports about trafficking in fetal body parts. Crutcher seems to revel in his organization's outsider status."We don't make any bones about the fact that we are a very aggressive prolife organization," Crutcher says. "We do things that some prolife groups would find distasteful."So far as Christianity Today can determine, Life Dynamics' strategies do not include violence, but the group does infiltrate abortion clinics. Crutcher defends the practice: "Some prolife groups are going to find this distasteful, that we are working with people who are inside the industry. But then how are you ever going to know this stuff?"The role of Planned Parenthood in the trafficking of fetal body parts has also been subject to question. Kelly says she was working at a Planned Parenthood affiliate. The affiliates perform only first-trimester abortions, a Planned Parenthood official told CT. Yet a number of affiliates state on their Web sites that their services include second- trimester abortions, from 14 weeks to 24 weeks.
OPENING A LOOPHOLE
American biomedical researchers began experiments as early as 1928 using fetal tissue to treat disease, according to American Life League, a prolife organization. In 1988, Congress enacted a measure to outlaw the explicit sale of fetal tissue or organs. In 1993, one of Bill Clinton's first official acts as president was to lift the ban on federal funding for fetal-tissue experimentation. The law itself, under the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, restates the ban on the overt sale of baby body parts. But the wording deftly allows "reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control or storage of human fetal tissue." The act did not define "reasonable payments."Thus, the actual bodies of aborted babies themselves are donated by the pregnant mothers and abortion clinics. An intermediary agency pays an "onsite" fee to the abortion clinic and processes the fetal tissue to order for its research clinics, which in turn pay a significant fee to the go-between. For example, the Anatomic Gift Foundation assessed charges up to $280 for "gross dissections." Additional fees apply for "fine or special resections and fixation." Opening Lines offers much the same thing. One brochure from Opening Lines says, "We can provide you with the exact tissue to meet your needs. We obtain and maintain appropriate confidential consent and basic medical histories for fetal tissue donation." The federal government budgets millions of dollars annually for fetal-tissue research. For 1999, the NIH allocated $21 million for research grants and awards involving fetal tissue. Demand for fetal tissue has soared as a result of federal funding.
As information has become public concerning the use of fetal body parts in research, a new light has been shed on the practice of partial-birth abortion. Since the controversial method depends on crushing the fetal skull, the remainder of the body is undamaged. According to the documents from Life Dynamics, protocols from researchers stipulate that organ retrieval must occur within 10 or 20 minutes after blood circulation stops. This requirement would seem to rule out fetal death by digoxin injection or saline induction because the fetal body is not delivered until hours after its death. Also, abortion by dismemberment within the uterus, another common method during the second trimester, would not meet the researchers' protocols. But Life Dynamics' Kelly claims she witnessed the live delivery of a baby in an abortion clinic in which the pregnant woman's cervix was dilated sufficiently to allow the skull to pass through. She alleges that child was killed and dismembered. Some analysts wonder whether the body parts trade explains the vigorous defense of partial-birth abortion by abortion businesses. That defense caught prolife advocates by surprise and probably cost the abortion industry some public support."When I first heard about that procedure, my thinking was, 'They won't defend this, this is too ghastly,' " says Teresa Wagner, the Family Research Council's policy analyst for sanctity-of-life issues. "Well, they absolutely became offensive and unapologetic and defended this as a necessary medical practice."Abortion advocates will soon have to defend partial-birth abortion before the Supreme Court. The court agreed in January to review the constitutionality of the ruling by which the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortions (CT, Dec. 6, 1999, p. 21).Prolife sources believe that bans on partial-birth abortion can be upheld even under Roe v. Wade. Although President Clinton vetoed federal bans on partial-birth abortion in 1996 and 1997, 27 states have passed similar bans. Eight of those bans are in effect, despite vigorous legal challenges by the abortion industry.
The House Commerce Committee, led by Tom Bliley (R-Va.), will have many questions to answer, including: How many abortion clinics and parts brokers are involved in the market for infant body parts? What is the role of researchers, including those receiving NIH funds? Purchase orders list the organs, limbs, and tissues needed, how often, and how they are to be obtained, prepared, and shipped. Abortion activists say that late-term abortions usually occur in cases of severe congenital abnormality. But researchers who place orders for "normal donors" must know that many late-term abortions are unconnected to fetal deformity or illness. Other issues have surfaced that only a thorough inquiry would answer: Do the researchers try to control abortion methods in order to ensure fresh specimens? Are women more likely to agree to abort if they are told that the body parts can be used to help medical research?Many analysts have argued that pregnant women simply do not think about the fate of an aborted infant. But a 1995 Canadian study found that 17 percent of respondents, who said they would consider having an abortion if pregnant, agreed that they would be more likely to do so if the aborted fetus could be used in research. According to Life Dynamics' Crutcher, Miles Jones says he is seeking markets for fetal body parts in Canada and Mexico. Prolife advocates fear that the escalating demands of researchers may lead to exploitation of the fetal body-parts market in the developing world. The prolife members of Congress hope to start by securing evidence of what is really happening in all these areas as a basis for recommendations for legislative change.Crutcher's ongoing refusal to produce Kelly is still disquieting to many prolife advocates. But it has not so far deterred the House Commerce Committee, which has both a pile of documents to mull over and the power of subpoena, if needed.
Despite support from the Clinton administration and biomedical researchers, fetal-tissue research has produced few useful results since 1993. For instance, in Parkinson's Disease, long the premier disease in the use of tissue from abortions, few patients younger than 60 receive any benefits. Even the benefit to younger patients is often insignificant, accompanied by unexpected symptoms, such as involuntary facial twitching, according to the latest research. Still, researchers want more time and more fetal brain material.In truth, there is no shortage of aborted babies. Prolife activists point out that, whether fetuses are viable, dead, or dying, they are human enough to provide useful tissues for others. Why are the same fetuses not considered human enough to deserve protection?Among prolifers searching for new avenues to stimulate public engagement on abortion, the most significant concern is whether the Congressional hearings will make a difference. "The possibilities for the administration to cover up what is going on are substantial," Cizik warns. The administration has pressed for publicly funded fetal research throughout the 1990s, maintaining that everything would proceed in an ethically acceptable manner.Cizik is troubled that the issue may not be discussed fully in a Congressional hearing. He bases this concern on an incident from April 1998. During a briefing in the Roosevelt Room, President Clinton told evangelical leaders that his administration opposed legislation protecting religious freedom overseas because such a law would lead the "bowels of the bureaucracy" at the State Department to "fudge the facts" about religious persecution.After observing six presidential administrations, Cizik says, this was the first time he had personally seen a sitting American president publicly admit that "our own civil servants will break the law if it suits their purposes."So far, no one at the House Commerce Committee has talked precisely about what the committee plans. But Right to Life's Johnson thinks that House hearings into the trafficking of fetal body parts may help Americans understand some of the real costs of the current abortion situation. "I suspect that the majority of Americans, a substantial majority, would be repulsed by an order form that says
I want this organ harvested within ten minutes."
Johnson compares it to the reported practice within China of executing prisoners according to the transplant organs needed. Cizik observes that the hearings "will reveal just how jaundiced we've become as a society to the taking of human life."If the public yawns, then it will be evidence that we have indeed become inured to murder for profit. It is entirely plausible that the scales have been so tipped that nothing will outrage us anymore," Johnson says. But with abortion on the agenda of the Supreme Court, Congress, and candidates in the November presidential election, the prolife community has an unusual opening to spur the American public to rethink the view that abortion is a necessary evil and that fetal tissue from abortion merits respect, but not protection.Conservative columnist Mona Charen wrote recently about trafficking in fetal bodies: "Some practical souls will probably swallow hard and insist that, well, if these babies are going to be aborted anyway, isn't it better that medical research should benefit?"No. This isn't like voluntary organ donation. This reduces human beings to the level of commodities."
Additional coverage of this topic is available in The Alberta Report, AbortionTV, World Magazine, and Insight.Denyse O'Leary's other articles for Christianity Today include:No Room in the Womb? | Couples with high-risk pregnancies face the 'selective reduction' dilemma. (Dec. 10, 1999)Embryo 'Adoption' Matches Donors and Would-be Parents | 'Snowflake' program is only of its kind in dealing with leftover fertilized eggs. (Nov. 2, 1999)Human Embryo Research Resisted (August 9, 1999)Embryo Research Contested (May 24, 1999)
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