U.S. Senate joins the "fetal" debate
(Note:Since this report was first published, the Senate has initiated hearings)

Courtesy The Tribune Papers, Inc.

Sen. Bob Smith of Vermont has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a resolution, to hear from four witnesses, at least three of whom did fetal tissue extraction at a clinic affiliated with Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Two of the persons were technicians and one is a pathologist who worked for companies that had agreements to do tissue work at the clinic.

It is legal to use fetal tissue for research as long as it is donated, not sold, by the women. Reasonable charges are allowed for companies that extract and transfer the tissue to researchers. Smith wants to find out whether fees are excessive and if regulations on removal are being followed.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, said the clinic had been compensated solely for providing the facilities for the tissue work. The clinic, he said, had no part in any sale of tissue or organs.

"We strongly support federal statutes and guidelines," Brownlie said. "It is and should remain illegal to sell tissue."

(Click here to see an actual "Fee for services" brochure.)

Smith's resolution does not assert that any of the witnesses did anything illegal or unethical, but it seeks their testimony by subpoena, if necessary.

Up until a year ago, Planned Parenthood rented space in its facility for fetal tissue research.

Abortion opponents said the practice could be used as an excuse to prolong pregnancies, because fetuses that are more developed produce tissue that is more valuable. It also can be profitable, thus keeping more clinics and doctors in the abortion business, they say.

Brownlie said women who received abortions at Planned Parenthood signed consent forms for the tissue donations and never were pressured into extending pregnancies. Federal law requires consent and prohibits medical researchers from having any role in the timing or method of abortion.

Abortion supporters say that fetal tissue represents a tiny fraction of all tissue research but was being used to stir alarm in the anti-abortion sector. One source said that didn't mean, however, that the Senate committee should stay away from the issue.

Calling for loopholes in the law to be closed, Smith told the Senate, "Abortion clinics and wholesalers are making a killing, literally, off the sale of human baby parts."

Smith's resolution to elicit testimony was on the committee calendar Feb. 10 but held for action until the next meeting.

One of the persons who could be asked to testify is Ross Capps, an Overland Park area resident.

Capps said he used to be a technician for the Georgia-based Anatomic Gift Foundation, a nonprofit company that had an agreement with Planned Parenthood to extract tissue and provide it to researchers. Capps said he didn't have anything to do with the pricing of the tissues. He said he was uncomfortable with his work and was willing to testify about what he witnessed.

"My stance is, abortion is legal, and if they can gain some beneficial research from the donation of a fetal organ, that's fine, but I don't want to get involved with it anymore," he said.

Testimony also is being sought from Dean Alberty, listed in the resolution as living in Lee's Summit, Mo. Alberty could not be reached for comment, but Capps said he trained Alberty at Anatomic Gift Foundation as a technician.

Jim Bardsley, vice president of Anatomic Gift Foundation, acknowledged last week that Capps and Alberty had been employees. Bardsley said the company followed all laws.

Bardsley said, however, that as of Jan. 1 Anatomic Gift got out of the fetal tissue business because of "negative campaigning and innuendo" by anti-abortion groups.

"We can live without it (fetal tissue work), but we couldn't live with it," Bardsley said. The company, founded in 1994, still retrieves adult tissue and organs, he said.
The other persons on the list of desired witnesses are Miles Jones and Rosie Lee Diaz. Jones is a pathologist who did some fetal tissue extraction at the clinic for about 10 weeks in late 1998, Brownlie said.

The resolution seeks to have Alberty, Capps and Diaz submit testimony and "any and all documents relating to the sale of fetal tissue." It seeks the same of Jones but also wants documents related to his medical research business.

At the state level, two Missouri lawmakers have offered bills that would require disclosure of any fees involved in the extraction and transport of tissue.

Brownlie said that he didn't object to more disclosure but that the U.S. Senate resolution and related investigation were grounded in abortion politics.

"It's a controversy being entirely fostered by anti-abortion groups that don't really care about the issue, except that it's a good political one for them," Brownlie said.

The executive director of the National Abortion Federation, whose members include about half of the country's clinics where abortions are performed, alledged that one of the lead private investigative organizations on this subject and it's president Mark Crutcher were not credible.

"Life Dynamics has a long history of disseminating misinformation and using underhanded tactics," Vicki Saporta said. "There are laws in place that regulate (tissue research), and they should be adhered to."

Crutcher said he wasn't surprised by the reaction of pro-abortion activists.

"When a message comes out they don't like, they shoot the messenger," Crutcher said.


Let them know your opinion.

* Sen Bob Smith (VT) - 1-202-224-2841
* Sen. Jesse Helms (R-Hickory, NC) - 1-828-322-5170
* Sen. John Edwards (D-Raleigh, NC) - 1-919-856-4245
* Senate Judiciary Committee - 1-202-224-5225
* Website: http://www.senate.gov/~judiciary
* Chairman: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) - 1-202-224-5251

Other members of Judiciary Committee;
Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Joseph Biden Jr. (D-DE), Arlen Spector (R-PA), Herbert Kohl (D-WI), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Russ Feingold (D-WI), John Ashcroft (R-MO), Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), Spencer Abraham (R-MI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

(Courtesy: The Tribune Papers Inc.)