Features

A silver lining

National

Issue: "Court in the balance," April 1, 2000

There are unmitigated debacles, then there are debacles with silver linings. Though the first congressional hearing on the illegal trade in baby body parts dissolved into a dissection of Dean Alberty, the former tissue procurement technician who says he worked for fetal-tissue profiteers, the hearing did have positive results from a pro-life perspective:

  • The House Subcommittee on Health and Environment, which held the hearing, voted unanimously to hold Dr. Miles Jones in contempt of Congress. Dr. Jones is a Missouri pathologist alleged to have been raking in huge profits by selling to medical researchers the body parts of aborted babies. The night before the hearing, he bragged to ABC News' Chris Wallace about "market forces" that enabled him to charge high prices for fetal tissue. Dr. Jones had been subpoenaed to testify at the March 9 hearing; when he failed to show, the subcommittee held him in contempt, which is a federal crime. The contempt resolution was voted out of full committee last week and should come to the floor of the House by next week. If the measure passes, Dr. Jones will be subject to a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • James Bardsley, president of suspected tissue-brokerage Anatomic Gift Foundation (AGF) of Maryland, had vowed to cooperate fully with the House subcommittee investigation. He even pledged that he would testify at the hearing. Given his cooperative attitude, subcommittee staffers opted not to subpoena Mr. Bardsley, but instead relied on him to show up on his own. That turned out to be a bad move: Mr. Bardsley was a March 9 no-show. Was Mr. Bardsley hiding something? On ABC's 20/20, Mr. Bardsley first denied aiding abortionists in altering their procedures to acquire better tissue, a practice that is illegal under federal law. He then admitted on-camera that AGF had sent special instruments to be used by abortionists at the Kansas Mid-Missouri Planned Parenthood Clinic. He later tried to cover his tracks with an explanatory letter to ABC News. Still, during the hearing, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a medical doctor, dismantled Mr. Bardsley's claim that sending oversized cannulas for abortionists' use did not amount to a change in abortion procedures. Says Michael Schwartz, an aide to Rep. Coburn: "Bardsley has good legal counsel, but he might have more to hide than is possible."
  • On March 10, the day after the hearing, the FBI announced that it was launching its own investigation into fetal-tissue trafficking. House subcommittee members also called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to look into the matter.
  • On March 15, Rep. Coburn introduced HR 3980, the Human Fetal Tissue Reporting and Disclosure Act, with 24 original co-sponsors. The legislation would require recipients of human fetal tissue to document transfers of possession, proper consent, and-if the tissue comes from an aborted baby-relevant details of its acquisition and use. The purpose of the legislation is to facilitate enforcement of the 1993 Waxman-Upton law, the statute traffickers in baby body parts are suspected of violating.
  • Over the course of the hearing, evidence of a trade in baby body parts entered the congressional record. Baby parts price lists obtained from both Miles Jones and AGF are now in the document and available to examine, as are records from Kansas Mid-Missouri Planned Parenthood that show a financially improper relationship between the clinic and AGF. Also included: testimony by former Planned Parenthood Vice President Lynn Fredericks about the questionable nature of the AGF/Planned Parenthood financial relationship and AGF's "informed consent" procedures for mothers considering donating their aborted children for medical research.

Perhaps the best news of all is that at least one suspected tissue trafficker, Anatomic Gift Foundation, claims it is now out of the fetal-tissue business. Of the hearing debacle, Mr. Schwartz says, "We had a couple of bad hours, but we have an important issue and documented evidence, and I think we'll be moving forward to uncover the truth."

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