Wednesday's hearing of the so-called House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a Republican-led panel examining whether abortion providers broke the law governing fetal tissue donation, was notable for what it didn't include as much as for what it did.
The work of David Daleiden, an anti-abortion activist currently facing criminal indictment in Texas whose home was recently searched by California authorities, had sparked the committee's creation. But he was not called to testify about his secretly recorded videos of abortion providers, for which he posed as a procurer of fetal tissue for medical research. (Daleiden did, however, live tweet the proceedings.)
Also absent were representatives of StemExpress, the actual fetal tissue procurement company that is in the crosshairs of the committee, though according to ranking minority member Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the company's procurement director offered to explain its cost structure to the committee. "The Chair ignored that offer and, instead, called this public hearing and invited witnesses who have no firsthand knowledge of the facts to opine about potential criminal misconduct," Schakowsky said.
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In an often testy hearing, the committee heard from two senators and six attorneys. Democratic members of the committee variously called the proceedings a "farce" a "kangaroo court" and "a witch hunt," and compared them to the fictional television show "House of Cards."
Republicans on the committee said Daleiden's videos and documents they produced indicate that the company and the abortion providers that partner with it, including Planned Parenthood, violated the law forbidding profiting from such donations. It is legal for women to donate such tissue after an abortion, as long as no "valuable consideration" is involved for any party. Planned Parenthood said the money that changed hands was reimbursement for costs and has since ceased accepting any funds at all.
Twelve states have looked into allegations that Planned Parenthood broke the law. Those states brought no charges. Another eight declined to investigate. Instead of charging Planned Parenthood, a grand jury convened in Harris County, Texas, by an avowedly anti-abortion prosecutor brought charges against Daleiden and his associate.
In addition to secretly recording abortion providers, Daleiden released video interviews with a former StemExpress employee, Holly O'Donnell. An investigation in The Los Angeles Times found that unpublished footage showed Daleiden coaching O'Donnell, and that he and his associates sought to ply abortion providers with alcohol and induce them to use certain phrases. With regards to one video that later inspired a notoriously distorted presidential debate pronouncement from Carly Fiorina, the Times wrote, "Outtakes show he edited out her statement that the fetus was dead before the brain tissue was removed — but included her saying that the heart was briefly restarted by being tapped."
"Any investigation worthy of the name would begin with taking sworn testimony from Mr. Daleiden, Ms. O’Donnell, and their associates," said Fay Clayton, an attorney and Democratic witness before the committee who in 2000 represented a foundation accused of selling fetal tissue. The key witness to support the allegation in that case admitted under oath before the House Committee in 2000 that he had lied to support the accusation.
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Key to Wednesday's hearing was a set of documents prepared by Republican staff, which includes unidentified website and contract screenshots that promise profit for clinics. A Republican witness, attorney Michael J. Norton, cited the documents and Daleiden's videos to pronounce it "clear ... that there has been profiteering at multiple levels in this grisly business."
But Democrats on the committee objected to use of the committee documents as proof and questioned both their origin and content. "This chart says that the clinic has no costs, so the payments are pure profit," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, referring to the abortion clinics that work with tissue procurers and ask their patients if they want to donate their fetal tissue. But Nadler pointed to other documents that indicate the clinic contributes other work, like drawing blood, which have been recognized as valid costs by the Government Accountability Office.
And Schakowsky said that the mentions of "profit" also pertained to adult tissue donations, which are less restricted.
Brian Lennon, an attorney called by the Republicans on the committee, remained unconvinced. That the website lists "a price per tissue payment informs me that we’re talking about the sale of a part and not some reasonable cost," he said.
Nadler accused the committee majority of trying to pressure the Department of Justice to investigate abortion providers. It is not known whether a federal criminal investigation has been opened to address any aspect of the case.
Daleiden has filed a motion to quash his indictment in Texas, and maintains he is a citizen journalist. In a ruling in a civil suit filed by the National Abortion Federation, federal district court judge William Orrick said the videos at issue in that case "thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions … of criminal misconduct."
Abortion providers have reported a major uptick in violence since 2014. Robert Lewis Dear, who has confessed to killing three people in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in November, told police he was angry about "the selling of baby parts," according to official documents.
After the hearing, Daleiden said in a statement, "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," and applauded the committee.
StemExpress released its own statement, saying it had cooperated fully with the investigation, but that "based on the exhibits presented at today’s hearing, the Select Panel’s Majority members chose to instead use documents that appear to be stolen or altered versions of StemExpress’s documents that were illegally obtained by David Daleiden, who was criminally indicted in Texas and is under investigation in California."
The statement also asserted that StemExpress, rather than profiting, has incurred a loss "providing urgently needed fetal tissue to medical researchers around the world working to treat and cure cancer, Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. StemExpress’ work providing adult blood, tissue, cells and other products provided to researchers represents 99% of its gross revenue every year."