National Catholic Register

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Fetal-Parts Trafficking Spurs House Action

BY Brian McGuire

November 21-27, 1999 Issue | Posted 11/21/99 at 2:00 PM

 

WASHINGTON—In the wake of growing reports of a ghoulish trafficking in fetal body parts, the U.S. House voted Nov. 9 to conduct hearings on the matter.

The resolution, sponsored by congressmen Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and co-sponsored by Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Joe Pitts, R-Pa., expressed the sense of the House “with respect to private companies involved in the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.” It passed on a voice vote.

“Unfortunately, entrepreneurs appear to have found a profitable niche within the abortion industry and have begun to traffic in the body parts of aborted babies,” Tancredo said.

In a letter to House Commerce Chair Thomas Bliley, R-Va., the bill's sponsors noted that “federal law … prohibits any person ‘to knowingly acquire, receive or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.’”

In August, the Denton, Texas-based Life Dynamics organization announced that it had evidence that proved a body parts trade had been booming since President Clinton lifted a federal ban on fetal tissue research with a 1993 executive order.

Life Dynamics President Mark Crutcher said his evidence consisted of eyewitness accounts, dozens of order forms from researchers requesting fetal parts, price lists for fetal organs and donation-consent forms for women undergoing abortion.

Crutcher, speaking with the Register before the story broke nationally, said that by posing as a researcher he was able to infiltrate businesses that sold the parts. But he said his real break came when a woman who had worked for traffickers came forward to help with his investigation.

In a videotaped interview Crutcher made available to the Register, the woman, who goes by the name “Kelly” to protect her anonymity, described the day she stopped working for the trade.

She said she was waiting outside an operating room as an abortionist removed twin babies from its mother's womb. The doctor then called Kelly into the room, telling her he had “a good specimen.” Kelly looked at the twin babies in the bucket before her and recoiled. “They're still alive,” she said, and left the room. The doctor, she said, filled the bucket with sterile water until the babies drowned. “That's when I knew it was wrong,” she said.

Rep. Pitts, in an apparent reference to Kelly's testimony, said he was “horrified” by reports that some abortion-ists may be “letting babies be born alive and are then drowning them so they can be cut up” according to researchers’ requirements. In addition, he noted, “some doctors are encouraging women to undergo partial-birth abortion to maximize the possibility of obtaining fetal tissues of organs useful to researchers.”

‘Harvests’

Life Dynamics’ Mark Crutcher said “Kelly” had provided his group with enough information to begin its own two-year investigation on the fetal tissue trade.

“It first came to our attention through Kelly's reports,” Crutcher said. “She became horrified at what she had seen and came to us.” Crutcher said fetal tissue wholesalers operate by “placing employees in abortion clinics to harvest tissue, limbs and organs from aborted babies. This material is then shipped to researchers working for universities, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies.”

Crutcher said companies are able to circumvent laws forbidding the sale of human tissue or body parts by having clinics “donate” the bodies. But the clinics then exact exorbitant “site fees” for the right to access the tissue.

Crutcher said that the order forms he obtained from companies such as the Anatomic Gift Foundation in Laurel, Md., prove that the site fees aren't arbitrary.

“These allegations are ludicrous,” said Brent Bardley, director of Anatomic Gift. Bardley told the Register that his company does “procure fetal tissue from abortions and spontaneous miscarriages,” but that reports of his technicians providing order sheets for specific body parts and asking doctors to alter their procedures for better “specimens” is “based on false information.”

“We just take discarded tissue; we have nothing to do with the procedure itself,” Bardley said. He added that tissue is retrieved on the basis of its condition, but that Anatomic Gift doesn't ask doctors to alter their procedures to ensure “good specimens.”

Bardley said once a patient consents to have her aborted baby used for research, his technicians are told when the abortion will take place. But he again flatly denied that abortion procedures are altered to suit the needs of researchers buying the particular limbs or organs.

“We don't want any tissue to go to waste,” Bardley said. “The Anatomic Gift Foundation provides a service to investigators [researchers], but we are a nonprofit organization in which no money changes hands, except if we have to reimburse clinics for the use of their supplies.”

Crutcher doesn't buy it. “They're playing word games with you,” Crutcher told the Register. “Money is changing hands. Just look at the fee schedules we gave you.”

Crutcher supplied the Register with copies of more than 50 orders placed by medical researchers. In one of the forms a request is made that the aborted baby be placed on ice 10 minutes after being removed, “too hasty for anyone to claim that these organ harvesters aren't cooperating with doctors,” Crutcher contended.

Partial-Birth Connection

In the course of investigating the fetal-tissue trade, Crutcher said he realized that partial birth abortion became a hot issue around the same time the fetal tissue trade picked up.

“I thought, ‘You'd have to be naive to think these two are unconnected,’” Crutcher said. “First of all, It's absurd to suggest, as many did in the debate over partial-birth, that this procedure is used to protect the life of the mother.

“Anyone who knows anything about childbirth knows that you don't induce a breach birth for the health of the mother.”

On the other hand, Crutcher said, “if you want a whole baby, partial-birth abortion will be your method of choice.” Crutcher said that clinics first charge a woman for her abortion and then sell the whole fetus at several hundred dollars to researchers to maximize profits.

“In order to get the most money,” Crutcher continued, “they make every attempt to deliver the baby whole, with a minimum of scratches on the body.”

“This is something that happens quite frequently in the industry,” said Eric Harrah, a former abortion clinic owner turned pro-lifer.

Harrah, who now lectures worldwide on the abortion industry, told the Register of an incident in one of his New York clinics.

“When I showed up,” Harrah said, “the staff explained to me that the baby was born alive and that the physician ordered the staff out of the room. When they returned the baby was dead. We never found out if the baby died on its own or was killed by the doctor, but I suspect that the baby was drowned because its body was completely clean.”

‘Money Started Flowing’

Regarding Crutcher's claim that procedures are altered to the specifications of researchers, Harrah said that he began to notice a pattern only after leaving the abortion industry.

“After President Clinton lifted the ban on fetal tissue research,” Harrah recalled, “doctors became more careful about disposing of the fetuses they aborted. Suddenly we were sending the fetuses to universities by Fed-Ex and UPS or freezing them. You definitely started seeing an increase in babies being aborted whole.”

Harrah said his Delaware clinic received a letter from Bardley in 1994 or 1995, inviting it to participate in the fetal-tissue market. “At the time we thought, ‘this is some pro-life Catholic group trying to set us up,’” Harrah said. “But when the money started flowing, everybody knew it wasn't a setup.”

In her videotaped interview with Life Dynamics, Kelly said that in a typical two-week period she would pick up between 30 and 40 fetuses, many of which were delivered at over 22 weeks gestation. About “three or four of these would be live births,” Kelly said, adding, “the doctor would either break the neck or take a pair of tongs and basically beat the fetus until it was dead.”

According to a statement issued by the Republican National Coalition for Life, members of Congress won't use the hearings as an occasion to ban fetal tissue research. The coalition cited powerful lobbying efforts by pharmaceutical companies and Clinton's inevitable veto of any bill aimed at banning fetal-tissue research as reasons.

A representative for Rep. Smith told the Register that he hoped to hold the hearings early next year. “Things definitely started to change after Clinton became president,” Harrah said. “For the last eight years the pro-abortion side has been living in Camelot and these people are going to do whatever they can to inflict damage on the pro-life side. This is a war.”