A possible contempt of Congress holding against a fetal tissue procurement business that has worked with Planned Parenthood is the latest development in an ongoing investigation into the apparent trade in aborted baby parts in this country.
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives of the U.S. House of Representatives voted 8-0 Sept. 21 for a resolution recommending that the chamber find StemExpress and its chief executive officer, Catherine Spears Dyer, in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide documents it had subpoenaed. The resolution also called for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to certify the panel’s report to a federal attorney.
All the panel’s Republican members voted for the resolution, but the six Democratic members refused to vote and walked out in protest.
The contempt report came in an investigation that has uncovered evidence some abortion clinics and at least one tissue procurement company have benefited financially from the trade, according to the House panel. The panel is seeking to determine if payments for baby parts made to clinics and companies violate a 1993 law that bans fees beyond reasonable costs for such activities as processing, storage and transportation of human fetal tissue.
The investigation has focused on Planned Parenthood since the panel was established last year after undercover videos provided evidence that the country’s No. 1 abortion provider trades in baby body parts. The secretly recorded videos showed various Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which produced the undercover recordings involving Planned Parenthood, also released videos regarding StemExpress, a California-based firm that acts as a middleman between abortion clinics and biomedical researchers. CMP posted clandestinely recorded videos online of StemExpress officials discussing their work, as well as a video of a former StemExpress employee discussing her experience procuring baby organs at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
In its report at the Sept. 21 meeting, the panel said StemExpress provided limited information voluntarily, prompting subpoenas of the business in February and March. The panel also subpoenaed Dyer and the company’s outside accountant. StemExpress and Dyer refused to provide the accounting records needed to complete its work, thereby violating the subpoenas, the panel reported.
Southern Baptist ethicists pointed to the need for accountability by StemExpress.
“The abortion lobby consistently flouts public accountability and relies on political partisanship to escape scrutiny,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is yet another example, but the contempt recommendation offers a glimmer of hope that their game may not always be working.
“Congress should continue to find ways to hold this industry accountable, for the sake of the unborn, vulnerable women and communities,” Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
C. Ben Mitchell, provost and professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., described accountability as “a very important part of ethical leadership.”
“The fact that StemExpress is either negligent or willfully defiant against the law does not contribute to public trust,” Mitchell told BP by email. “Why would an entity that is operating ethically have something to hide?”
Rep. Marsh Blackburn, R.-Tenn., the panel’s chairman, said she hopes the contempt resolution will produce compliance from StemExpress.
“A subpoena is not a suggestion,” Blackburn said in a panel news release. “It is a lawful order that must be complied with.
“Nine months is enough time for an entity to produce accounting documents. It’s time for them to turn over the records we need to complete our investigation.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D.-Ill., the panel’s minority leader, contended during the Sept. 21 meeting the entity has no authority to recommend contempt to the House, describing the vote as “an unauthorized, dangerous, unjustified, illegitimate escalation.”
On the eve of the panel’s action, StemExpress defended itself in a written statement, saying it has “provided hundreds of documents to the Select Panel, including accounting records, both voluntarily and in response to subpoenas. All Americans should be concerned that a Congressional panel can use the threat of contempt proceedings to support a narrative that flies in the face of the facts.”
CMP, meanwhile, said in a written release the Democrats’ walkout demonstrated “how terrified they and their abortion industry masters are of the full details being revealed about Planned Parenthood’s criminal partnership with StemExpress. Finding StemExpress in contempt of Congress is just the first criminal charge that the full details about the illicit body parts trade at Planned Parenthood will reveal.”
In a July update, Blackburn said the panel had found a “motive for illicit profit” in an investigation that includes Planned Parenthood and StemExpress as subjects. In its first six months of work, the panel had “uncovered evidence that some abortion providers have altered abortion procedures in a manner that substitutes what is best for the patient with a financial benefit for both the abortion clinic and the [tissue] procurement company,” she said.
The panel released documents from StemExpress in April that included:
– A marketing brochure distributed at an abortion trade association meeting that said a clinic could help with biomedical research in a way that is “financially profitable.”
– Exhibits showing technicians employed by the procurement company work within clinics to identify and procure body parts of unborn children being aborted.
– Lists of payments by researchers to the procurement company, including purchases of fetal brains of five to 24 weeks’ gestation for $715 apiece.
The California Senate approved in late August a Planned Parenthood-instigated bill that increases the punishment for a person who distributes a conversation with a healthcare worker he or she has secretly recorded. The State Assembly still must approve the Senate legislation for it to go to the governor’s desk.
Three months after release of the first undercover video in July 2015, Planned Parenthood announced it would no longer receive reimbursement for fetal tissue it provides for research.
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
The House panel is to issue a final report by Dec. 31.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)