Anti-Choice Lawmakers Use Planned Parenthood Attack Videos to Target Fetal Tissue Research

Institutions that use fetal tissue for scientific research have found over the past month that they are vulnerable targets of anti-choice legislation pushed in legislatures across the country.

Institutions that use fetal tissue for scientific research have found over the past month that they are vulnerable targets of anti-choice legislation pushed in legislatures across the country. Shutterstock

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

Institutions that use fetal tissue for scientific research have found over the past month that they are vulnerable targets of anti-choice legislation pushed in legislatures across the country.

The publication of videos featuring surreptitiously recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and biomedical companies discussing fetal tissue donation policies and practices has led to outrage from anti-choice activists and lawmakers, even as those deceptive videos have been largely discredited.

Legislators have used the videos to justify a failed attempt by congressional Republicans to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for services unrelated to abortion.

Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations and hearings into the organization, but to date none have uncovered evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws with regard to fetal tissue.

Before the release of the attack videos, six clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood offered pregnant people seeking abortion care the option to donate the fetal tissue for research. Now there are only two clinics that still offer that option. It is unclear if the clinics will ever resume offering patients the option to donate fetal tissue.

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

“Fetal tissue in itself is an antiquated type of research that’s kind of on its way out,” Dr. David Prentice, vice president and research director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told The Hill. “They don’t make polio vaccines using fetal tissue anymore. It’s obviously our hope that it’s on the way out.”

The Charlotte Lozier Institute is the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization dedicated to electing anti-choice candidates and pursuing anti-choice legislation and policies.

Manjunath Swamy, professor of biomedical sciences at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center, told the Houston Chronicle that the unique regenerative abilities of fetal liver and lung tissue have been essential to his research into finding a more effective way to treat HIV.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University School of Medicine, told The Hill that fetal tissue researchers will be watching the response by lawmakers in state legislatures across the country.

“I think there are certainly people nervous about what their state legislature might do,” Caplan said. “You’re certainly not going to run around saying, ‘Let’s keep our fetal tissue programs going.’”

One of Wisconsin’s most anti-choice Republican lawmakers introduced a bill last month that would prohibit “certain sales and uses of fetal body parts derived from an unborn child aborted by an induced abortion.”

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) said that he introduced AB 305, which is similar to another bill he introduced in 2013, in response to the CMP attack videos.

“The undercover videos are lifting back the curtain on what happens in the back room of abortion clinics across the country,” Jacque told the Madison Capital-Times. “That has raised public awareness and made a stronger case for the need for the law.”

Jacque has sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation since being elected in 2010, including a bill requiring women to undergo a forced ultrasound prior to an abortion and a ban on sex-selective abortion.

Jacque introduced a bill last month to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title IX funds for family planning services. Planned Parenthood is the only recipient of the funding in the state, and receives more than $3 million from that grant each year, reported the Wisconsin Gazette.

When Jacque introduced the bill to ban fetal tissue donation in 2013, it quietly died in committee, but the bill he introduced this year has already been the subject of a controversial committee hearing. The Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety held a hearing last month during which lawmakers questioned the benefits and ethics of using fetal tissue for research.

Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, testified during the 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.”

David Walsh, a former member of the UW Board of Regents, said that he was sure that conservative lawmakers on the committee were interested in actually listening to the testimony of those who testified against the bill.

“It is clearly an attack on the university,” Walsh told the Madison Capital-Times. “They are trying to criminalize the activities of UW researchers. It’s that simple.”

Lawmakers in other states are taking similar actions to those in Wisconsin, and bills to ban or restrict fetal tissue donation have also been introduced in Illinois and Michigan.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issued a temporary executive order, approved by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, that clinics providing abortion care must report to state health officials what happens to the tissue of the aborted fetuses.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s spokesman, told the Arizona Republic that the governor is seeking to make the rule permanent through legislative action.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said last week that he will seek to “eliminate and criminalize any sale or transaction of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic for any purpose whatsoever.” The so-called “LIFE” initiative included policy proposals for state lawmakers in response to the CMP videos, most of which were redundant.

“Gruesome—and potentially illegal—harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood cannot be allowed in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement. “Treating unborn children as commodities to be sold is an abomination. The barbaric practice of harvesting and selling baby body parts must end.”

The policy proposals include eliminating and criminalizing “any sale or transaction of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic for any purpose whatsoever.”

Abbott proposed making it felony under Texas law to perform a so-called partial-birth abortion and making it illegal for physicians who provide abortion care to “risk a woman’s health by altering the procedure to preserve fetal body parts.” Both are already banned by federal law.

The Texas attorney general’s office, the state Health and Human Services Commission, and the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee have launched investigations since the release of the heavily edited CMP videos. 

Texas Planned Parenthood has repeatedly said that no affiliated clinics participate in fetal tissue donation programs. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast worked with the University of Texas Medical Branch, a publicly funded hospital, on a miscarriage study that involved fetal tissue in 2010.