The dominoes continue to fall from the Center for Medical Progress’ 2015 investigation into the trafficking of aborted fetal tissue. Last week, the organization Judicial Watch announced it had obtained records revealing details about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), a firm accused of selling unborn baby body parts it bought from Planned Parenthood. The documents show the hefty prices the government paid for supposedly donated tissue.
The Trump administration ended the FDA contract with ABR in September 2018. Four days later, Judicial Watch requested records related to the agreement. When the Department of Health and Human Services failed to respond promptly to the Freedom of Information Act request, Judicial Watch sued, and the FDA eventually released 165 pages of records to the organization.
The FDA had eight contracts totaling $96,370 with ABR from 2012 to 2018 to obtain “fresh and never frozen” human fetal tissue for research purposes, the records show. U.S. law prohibits the sale of human fetal tissue but allows for “reasonable payments” to cover things like transportation, preservation, and storage. When a contracting specialist from the FDA requested pricing for the tissue samples, an ABR representative said, “As we are not selling items, we do not have prices. We assess fees for our services.”
Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, noted a 2016 Senate investigation showed ABR’s so-called fees hardly qualify as “reasonable payments.” According to the report, ABR charged as much as $6,000 for tissue samples that cost only about $60 per baby, a few hours of work at $15 an hour, and the cost of a FedEx shipment. The FDA cited this failure to meet the protections against trafficking in unborn baby parts as a reason for ending the contract with ABR in 2018.
“Calling something a ‘fee’ alone does not suffice,” Glenn said. “It strains credulity to think that high a number is a ‘fee’ that would not rise to the level of valuable consideration, which is lawyer-speak for payment.”
The Department of Justice has been investigating Planned Parenthood for its involvement in the fetal tissue trade since 2017. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter last summer requesting an update on the probe.
“There has been no response for an entire year to that inquiry,” said David Daleiden, project leader at the Center for Medical Progress. “The evidence keeps on piling up … so it’s very confusing that the Department of Justice would be allowing this activity to continue for so long.”
He noted the department was much quicker to crack down on Native American tribe members for selling eagle body parts.
This spring, HHS announced the formation of a Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board. After receiving 105 nominations, the department is vetting possible board members. The board plans to meet in July and will determine whether research groups that use tissue from aborted babies qualify to receive federal funding.
“They are for the first time actually submitting these projects to a serious, thoughtful, sober ethical review,” said Daleiden. “If most of these proposed fetal tissue projects at outside institutions are examined with those ethical values in mind, I don’t think that any of them can ultimately qualify for funding. … You can’t have any … ethical safeguards when a project is dependent on someone having an abortion.”