Did they profit? Lawmakers clash over new documents in fetal tissue probe

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Republicans renewed accusations Wednesday that companies may have illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue, releasing documents they claim depict “the Amazon.com of baby body parts” -- at a tense and emotional hearing where Democrats rejected the claims as unfounded.

The hearing on “The Pricing of Fetal Tissue,” held by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, was called by Republicans who claimed to have new evidence of groups like Planned Parenthood profiting from the sale of aborted fetus body parts.

The investigative panel was created last year following outrage over secretly recorded videos which alleged to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they supply fetal tissue to medical research companies for money.

One document presented by the committee showed a company's promotional brochure for abortion clinics, calling the procurement business “financially profitable” and a “partner program that fiscally rewards clinics.” The company’s name was redacted but the literature says it is a California-based biomedical company that provides human tissue “ranging from the fetal to the adult.”

Another screenshot shows an order form for fetal parts on another unnamed company’s website. A drop-down menu shows a list of available parts, including brain, heart, lungs, tongue, eyes and blood. Also included are shipping options.

“This is the Amazon.com of baby body parts,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. “How could anyone defend this practice?”

“Why on earth would anyone need a baby scalp?” asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn and chairwoman of the committee. "... This sounds like someone who wants to make money, a lot of money."

A visibly emotional Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called for lawmakers to stand up for the rights of the unborn.

“Babies are not the sum of their body parts,” said Sasse, who testified on the hearing panel. “Babies are not meant to be bought. Babies are not meant to be sold. Babies are just that—babies. They’re meant to be welcomed and rejoiced over, held and nurtured.”

However, Democrats on the panel lambasted Republicans for holding the hearing and claimed the evidence was inconclusive and misleading. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., put forward a motion to rule out the documents as evidence, calling them “created from whole cloth.” The motion was defeated.

Republicans on the panel would not reveal the source of the materials, saying they came from investigative work by staff.

“We can’t just have some witch hunt based on some things that were created off of screen shots,” DeGette, D-Colo., said.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., called the proceedings a “political weapon to attack women’s health care.” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called it “the definition of a kangaroo court.”

Schakowsky criticized Republicans for not bringing in representatives from  the biomedical companies themselves, and accused the Republicans of encouraging a narrative set up by what she called deceptive and dangerous videos.

Schakowsky referred to letters from one of the procurement companies, StemExpress, saying that the company has actually lost money on fetal tissue procurement. The company said some of the evidence in the documents released by the panel may have been obtained illegally by hackers and mischaracterizes the company's business, which also deals with adult blood and tissue.

“I believe there is a connection between the murders at the clinic in Colorado Springs following these deceptive videos where the murderer said ‘no more baby body parts,'” Schakowsky also said, referring to a shooting at an abortion clinic in November that left three people dead.

Democrats noted that a number of state agencies had found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing and has said it did not profit from the practice. Investigations by several states and congressional panels have not produced evidence that it acted illegally. Still, the undercover videos, which began appearing last July, have been cited by governors and legislators in numerous Republican-led states as justification for cutting off public funding for Planned Parenthood.

David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress – the group that recorded the videos – said that the hearings are more proof of an “illegal and horrific enterprise.”

"What we learned from today’s hearing is that Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress are engaged in a rampant, illegal, and horrific enterprise that harvests, trafficks, and sells aborted babies’ hearts, lungs, and brains for profit,” Daleiden said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.