Fetal-Parts Trade: Caught in the Act

WASHINGTON — Missy Smith can face her friends again, after congressional hearings and a recent ABC “20/20” exposé.

The Washington, D.C., mother was so upset by November news reports of the fetal parts that she founded WAKE-UP — short for Women Against the Killing and Exploitation of Unprotected Persons — to sound the alarm. But friends would walk away from her when she raised the issue, thinking she was “weird,” she said.

“I could hear the skepticism in their voices when I would tell them about it,” she recalled.

Now, congressional evidence and the undercover “20/20” report confirm that baby body parts are being sold for profit. Said Smith: “It's going to be like Niagara Falls when the code of silence on abortion is broken.”

The U.S. House of Representatives began to hear testimony March 10 on a trade that insiders are calling an illegal $70-million-a-year business.

A day earlier, Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., appeared on ABC's “20/20” newsmagazine program to discuss his findings. He said that since first learning of the trade last fall, his committee had gathered enough evidence to determine that an illegal trade in fetal body parts has flourished in the United States since 1996, the year President Clinton issued an executive order lifting the ban on fetal tissue research.

“20/20” conducted its own three-month investigation into the trade. One of the men the producers interviewed for their March 9 program, Dean Alberti, is a former technician for the Anatomic Gift Foundation, a Laurel, Md.-based company that, according to Alberti, traded fetal body parts for cash.

In his testimony before a Commerce subcommittee, Alberti said profits were made from the sale of baby body parts and that abortions were performed in such a way that the bodies of babies were left intact to preserve their research value.

Alberti said he left the business after one abortionist handed him a live set of twin newborns to deliver to a local researcher. After expressing alarm at the site of the live babies, Alberti said the abortionist submerged one of them in water, then returned with it dead.

After this incident, Alberti began working as a mole for Life Dynamics, a Denton, Texas-based pro-life research organization. Alberti gathered dozens of fee schedules for body parts and documented how the industry operates.

Life Dynamics released its findings to the media at the end of last summer, when Alberti appeared in a video issued by Life Dynamics dressed as a woman to conceal his identity. Since revealing his identity on “20/20,” Alberti says he has received at least one death threat.

The committee gathered enough evidence to determine that an illegal trade in fetal body parts has flourished in the United States since 1996, the year President Clinton issued an executive order lifting the ban on fetal tissue research.

Alberti told the subcommittee that aside from making a profit from the sale of fetal body parts, he was occasionally asked to obtain fetal tissue from women who had not consented to donate their babies for research.

In the “20/20” exposé, one highly placed organ-trader described his business to a “20/20” reporter over dinner. Thinking the man was a potential investor, he told him before hidden cameras that the fetal body parts trade was “the equivalent of the invention of the assembly line.”

A 1993 federal law sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., made it illegal to sell aborted babies for profit.

One staff member in the House told the Register that “20/20” modified its programming schedule to air its program on organ trafficking one day before the House hearings. “20/20” producers didn't return phone calls from the Register.

Debate Over Hearings

Just two days before the “20/20” program was set to air, Commerce Committee members debated over whether or not to allow press coverage of the hearings.

According to one insider, several pro-abortion congressmen expressed concern that if the names of abortion-ists were made public, pro-lifers would respond with violence.

Michael Schwartz, administrative director to Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Va., said these concerns were disingenuous.

“There is only one person involved in this who has received a death threat,” he observed, “and that's Dean Alberti.”

Schwartz said that at one point in the debate Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Texas, decided he wanted the hearings to remain open. The press then learned of efforts to keep the hearings closed and, according to Schwartz, the lawmakers “all caved” and allowed the press.

Paul Kim, a spokesman for Rep. Waxman, told the Register that there was some concern about potential “inflammatory and inaccurate information” coming out in the hearings, but added that “unless there is a compelling reason” to keep the hearings closed, they will remain opened.

Schwartz said what really concerned subcommittee members about open hearings was the potential damage they would do to the publiC's image of the abortion industry.

“They are embarrassed that their friends in the abortion industry are butchering and bartering human flesh and are bashful about exposing the seamy underside of the abortion industry,” Schwartz said.

Kim called these claims “speculative” and said he would wait to hear what the witnesses said in the hearing before assessing the allegations of an illegal trade.

Schwartz said the subcommittee had enough information to “demonstrate that the Anatomic Gift Foundation made a profit in direct violation of [Waxman's] law.” He said Rep. Coburn hopes the Justice Department will act on the findings and prosecute the lawbreakers.

Use of dead fetuses that indicates complicity in abortions is condemned by the Catholic Church.

In its 1987 instructive Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote:

“The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. In particular, they cannot be subjected to mutilation or to autopsies if their death has not yet been verified and without the consent of the parents or of the mother. Furthermore, the moral requirements must be safeguarded, that there be no complicity in deliberate abortion and that the risk of scandal be avoided. Also, in the case of dead fetuses, as for the corpses of adult persons, all commercial trafficking must be considered illicit and should be prohibited” (response to Question No. 4).

Pro-Life Response

For all its attention on fetal parts trafficking, the “20/20” report didn't please all pro-lifers.

Rebecca Sande, board member of Pro-Life Wisconsin, expressed disappointment in the show. “The program,” she said, “seemed to insinuate that if the National Institutes of Health pays for aborted babies, its OK, but that if entrepreneurs are paying money for them it's not.”

Sande was not surprised to hear allegations about companies making money from the sale of aborted babies. “If it's OK to kill a child,” she asked, “why shouldn't it be OK to make a profit off of its parts?”

A change in current abortion law can only come incrementally, she added. A bill was recently introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that would make it illegal for any one to collect money for baby body parts for any reason after the child had been aborted.

According to Sande, this removes the profit motive for abortionists. “What abortionist is going to donate a baby for research — what would be the motive?” she asked. “They are in it for the money.”

The Wisconsin bill has attracted 54 co-sponsors. A Pro-Life Wisconsin statement said that pro-lifers “vastly outnumber” pro-choicers in the state Senate.

According to Sande, the “20/20” producers probably wouldn't like the Wisconsin bill. “They think money could change hands,” she contended. “It's making a profit that they are against. The whole idea that human life has value inside the womb is foreign to them.”

But Pro-Life Wisconsin director Peg Hamill said the program was generating “a lot of interest” in the issue. She added, “A lot of people are outraged at how far it's gone.”