NYT Editorial March 7, 2016 (A 20)
With its hidden-camera videos that took aim at Planned Parenthood, the Center for Medical Progress tried to stir up opposition to abortion rights by concocting a controversy over fetal tissue research. Now Republicans in the House are doing much the same thing.
Initially convened in response to the videos, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pledges to “get the facts about medical practices of abortion service providers and the business practices of the procurement organizations who sell baby body parts.”
Its first hearing last Wednesday was a showcase for fallacious attacks on fetal tissue research. In her opening statement, Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who heads the panel, talked about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the forced sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities as a prelude to discussing fetal tissue research. She went on to claim that the Center for Medical Progress’s videos showed “something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissue and research,” even though multiple investigations of Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The panel, dominated by Republicans, decided to issue subpoenas requesting the names of medical researchers who work with fetal tissue and employees at a clinic that provides abortions. That tactic could put clinic workers, who routinely face harassment and threats, at greater risk by making their names public as part of a congressional investigation.
As Representative Jan Schakowsky, the ranking Democrat on the panel, put it, “Linking individuals’ names to an investigation that the Republicans describe as examining the ‘harvesting of baby body parts’ and the ‘horrific practices’ of abortion providers puts people in danger.”
Some witnesses called by the Republicans questioned the research value of fetal tissue or said it could be replaced by tissue from other sources. But many medical experts say fetal tissue research is a necessary part of the search for treatments for Parkinson’s, diabetes and other conditions. At the hearing, Lawrence Goldstein, the director of the stem cell program at the University of California, San Diego, said that stopping fetal tissue research would slow the search for a vaccine for the Zika virus.
Fetal tissue has already been used to produce vaccines for diseases like polio and rubella, and a panel convened by President Ronald Reagan found fetal tissue donation and research to be ethically acceptable.
The congressional panel’s efforts will not be limited to blocking fetal tissue research, which is bad enough. According to its website, it is empowered to study federal funding for abortion providers, late-term abortion practices and “any changes in law or regulation necessary as a result of any other findings made.”
Wednesday’s hearing showed that limiting or ending access to legal abortion services is part of the agenda. One witness said that women who have had abortions “forfeit the moral standing needed” to decide what should happen to the fetal tissue. One panel member, Representative Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, bizarrely asked, “Have we reached a point in our society where there effectively is an Amazon.com for human parts, including entire babies?” — a comment that has no basis in reality.
Since the panel’s goals are so broad, its future direction is unclear. What is clear is that by pursuing their baseless investigation into “baby body parts,” Republicans are continuing the campaign against fetal tissue research and reproductive rights that the Center for Medical Progress began.