Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn called Friday for Colorado State University to stop using fetal tissue from abortions in its research while CSU defended its work as above reproach both legally and ethically.
In a letter to CSU President Tony Frank, Lamborn cited documents released last week by the Center for Medical Progress showing that the university bought what he described as “aborted babies’ parts” on Jan. 10, 2013, from a Planned Parenthood affiliate in California.
Federal and state law bans the acquisition, receipt or transfer of “human fetal tissue for valuable consideration” obtained from an abortion, although such purchases are legal if transaction constitutes “reasonable payment” for transportation, storage and other expenses related to the transfer.
Critics accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue after the center last week released documents and an undercover video of Dr. Deborah Nucatola describing how she performs abortions in order to preserve hearts, lungs, livers and other in-demand fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has denied the charges, saying payments received for the fetal tissue are reimbursements for “actual costs” and not for “financial benefit.” The organization has also stressed that patients are donating the fetal tissue for medical research.
Lamborn asked Frank to explain the purchase, including the date, “the body parts purchased, the source of the body parts purchased (including the abortion clinic which performed the abortion), the price paid by Colorado State University for the body parts.”
“I also respectfully request that, should it be true that the policy of Colorado State University permits the purchase or acquisition of aborted babies’ body parts for experimentation or for other purposes, Colorado State University immediately revoke any such policy and thereafter refrain, cease and desist from any further purchases of aborted babies’ body parts,” Lamborn said in the letter.
Kyle Henley, CSU vice president for strategic communications, said Friday he had not yet replied to the congressman, who asked for a response within 15 days, but released an email being sent from CSU to “members of the public who are contacting the university on this issue.”
The email, which is printed in its entirety below, defends CSU’s use of fetal tissue donated after abortions for research “aimed at curing some of the most devastating human diseases, including cancer, Dengue fever, diabetes and more.”
“Colorado State University is a national leader in infectious disease research, and CSU has used cells from fetal tissue samples as part of research to find a cure for HIV/AIDS,” says the statement. “This tissue must be obtained legally and in compliance with federal regulations.”
The video of Nucatola, in which she describes over lunch and drinks how she conducts abortions and cites the price per specimen at $30 to $100, drew a heated reaction from House Republicans, who have called for a congressional investigation.
Nucatola is the senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health care.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards apologized in a video statement Thursday for Nucatola’s “tone and statements” but also defended the practice of donating fetal tissue to research centers.
“Recently, an organization that opposes safe and legal abortion used secretly recorded, heavily edited videos to make outrageous claims about programs that help women donate fetal tissue for medical research,” Richards says in the video.
“I want to be really clear. The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true,” she said. “Our donation programs, like any other quality health-care providers’, follows all laws and ethical guidelines.”
A few hours later, the center called on Planned Parenthood to release its contracts with companies that transfer fetal tissue from the organization’s affiliate clinics to research labs.
“If they are truly sorry, they should immediately hand over all contracts with StemExpress and other fetal harvesting companies to law enforcement and congressional committees,” the center said in a statement. “A belated ‘sorry’ is not enough for these deeds of baby parts trafficking and partial-birth abortion, these atrocities against humanity.”
The following is the CSU email statement:
“Thank you for your email and your concern about what is being reported regarding CSU. As you might expect, the reality of the situation is quite a bit less sensational than the stories circulating on the internet, and we appreciate the opportunity to respond.
“We absolutely understand that the allegations against Planned Parenthood have raised significant concerns for many people. Congress has now announced its intent to investigate, and we believe that process will likely provide all of us with important and relevant insight – the nation’s legislature is an appropriate venue for discussing potential changes in federal laws.
“No matter how any of us feel morally or politically about the abortion issue, it is a reality that many parents going through an abortion request to have the fetal tissue donated for medical research, rather than discarded, and existing federal research protocols allow for such donations for medical research purposes, under very strict guidelines and with a considerable amount of regulation. Parents of children who die under other circumstances also often choose to donate their child’s tissue for research purposes, even in the face of their own devastating loss. Such donations, by their nature, inevitably come in the face of a difficult or tragic situation, and we believe they are made in the hope that they will do some good.
“Regarding research conducted at Colorado State, our university is among major medical centers and institutions of higher education across the country that use donated fetal tissue in research aimed at curing some of the most devastating human diseases, including cancer, Dengue fever, diabetes and more. Colorado State University is a national leader in infectious disease research, and CSU has used cells from fetal tissue samples as part of research to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. This tissue must be obtained legally and in compliance with federal regulations. The research is reviewed, supported and funded by the National Institutes of Health, and CSU follows all federal regulations and protocols related to the use of human tissue samples. Our research programs are regularly reviewed by federal regulators and other officials to ensure bioethical and legal compliance.
“This CSU research, which has already led to significant breakthroughs in the fight against HIV/AIDS, works with tissue samples of miniscule size to obtain the cells required for modeling of the human blood system. To put the importance of this research into context, consider that more than 35 million men, women and children worldwide are living with HIV, and an estimated 39 million people with AIDS have died worldwide since the epidemic began. CSU is proud that our faculty is at the forefront of research to find a cure.
“Finally, I simply want to assure you that the research in question is medically important and fully compliant with all federal and university regulations. The faculty involved, and the university, care deeply about their ethical obligations and the importance of obtaining tissue only from federally compliant sources. Our university is a leader in the ethical conduct of research, and we always welcome feedback such as yours as we seek to uphold our academic and research missions. This is not an issue that any of us takes lightly.
“Thanks for writing.”