WASHINGTON –Democrats Wednesday accused Republicans of creating “a dangerous witch hunt” at the first hearing of a House panel investigating fetal tissue harvesting and research. But the Republican head of the panel said she was moving forward to issue subpoenas to several abortion research groups.
The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is one of several created after videos were released that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing selling fetal tissue. These videos were later revealed to have been highly edited, and in January a Texas grand jury indicted some of their creators for tampering with government documents.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, the top Democrat on the panel, said that in light of the grand jury revelations, the panel should have been disbanded calling it, “a partisan and dangerous witch hunt.”
In February Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the chairwoman of the panel, issued subpoenas to three organizations: Stem Express, the University of New Mexico and Southwestern Women’s Options that “failed to fully cooperate with document requests.”
The Democratic members of the panel objected. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the organizations targeted had only refused to turn over names of individual researchers and employees involved.
On Wednesday, Nadler moved to quash the subpoenas, saying that Blackburn had failed to properly notify the Democratic members and that the subpoenas might make the committee complicit in violence against the individuals named. Later in the hearing he doubled down on this claim, suggesting that the subpoenas were “designed” to lead to violence.
But in a party-line vote the motion was tabled.
The ethicists who then testified before the committee offered opposing views about the moral and ethical implications of fetal tissue research.
Dr. Gerald Donovan, a bioethicist at Georgetown University, said that parents make medical decisions because they are generally assumed to be acting in the best interests of the child. But that assumption is less clear when the parent “has just consented to the abortive destruction of the individual from whom those tissues and organs would be obtained.”
Without that consent, Donovan argued, it is impossible for fetal tissue research to be ethical.
But bioethicist R. Alta Charo argued that fetal tissue research does not change the number of abortions because it is illegal for a woman to become pregnant with the goal of donating the fetus.
For Charo, the question is whether fetal tissue should be used for research or discarded. She argued that research using fetal issue has led to cures for diseases.
“We gain nothing when we turn our backs on the benefits of this research for people who are sick today, or will be sick tomorrow,” she said. “To say nothing of the irony of halting research that improves our chance of preventing miscarriages, of preventing birth defects and of saving infants’ lives.”
Several Republicans on the panel presented emails between abortion providers and researchers as evidence of unethical behavior. The emails use cold and dispassionate language to discuss what kinds of material would be provided.
Charo responded to the emails by saying that researchers and doctors commonly use this kind of language although it might sound uncomfortable to outsiders.