EXCLUSIVE: The Federal Government Tried before to Stop the Trafficking of Fetal Remains, and Failed

By Linda Royall Published on August 16, 2015

“We have gone down the proverbial slope,” said a legislative insider who had been involved in the congressional hearing held after the first baby body part scandal broke in 1999 and 2000. Roe v. Wade was “the first step. Now we have infanticide, and now we’ve rationalized the taking [of fetal tissue] for some other ‘good purpose.’ It’s even been said that these women were making ‘a great contribution to science’ by having their babies torn apart.”

Those scandalized by the new revelations about Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of fetal corpses may not know that the nation has dealt with this issue before. In 1993, Congress passed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act, which allowed federally-funded research using tissue from unborn children. It limited the trade but an industry arose that easily got around those limitations.

In 1999, Life Dynamics, Inc., uncovered the market in the parts taken from aborted children. As World magazine reported at the time, Life Dynamics’ investigation unearthed grim, hard-copy evidence of the cross-country flow of baby body parts, including detailed dissection orders, a brochure touting “the freshest tissue available,” and price lists for whole babies and parts. One 1999 price list from a company called Opening Lines reads like a cannibal’s wish list: Skin $100. Limbs (at least 2) $150. Spinal cord $325. Brain $999 (30% discount if significantly fragmented).

The story flared up briefly in the mainstream media. Then as now, some congressmen responded. In the Senate, Sen. Bob Smith (NH) offered an amendment to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. His amendment called for detailed reporting on the transactions of parts of aborted children. It lost on an almost party-line vote, 51-46, with four Republicans joining every Democrat in voting against it. In the House, Rep. Tom Tancredo offered a resolution calling for hearings on the issue, which passed on a voice vote. Hearings were held the next year.

The night before the hearings, the ABC news show 20/20 ran an exposé revealing the same practices the latest videos have exposed. Profit was being made from the sale of aborted fetuses and the procedures for performing the abortions were changed in order to get more saleable parts. (Here is a picture of the price list.) At the end of the program one co-host asked the other, “Chris, if there are laws on the books on this subject, why is it still going on? Why hasn’t something been done?” Chris Wallace answered, “It’s a question we kept asking in this investigation. We couldn’t find anyone in the federal government enforcing those laws.”

Things, however, didn’t change much. The major media quickly dropped the story. Congress did not move to ban the use of fetal body parts. A bill to increase reporting requirements for those who used fetal remains — including the requirement to state whether the tissue was obtained from an induced abortion — passed in the House but died in the Senate.

Eventually new guidelines slightly tightened those passed in 1993. The new guidelines banned the sale of fetal remains but allowed their use if the mother approved and the company was only reimbursed for the costs. Remains could not be trafficked across state lines.

The Unrecognized Reality

Our insider, whose current political involvements necessitate keeping his identity confidential, closely observed the media coverage and the congressional hearings in 2000. The reality of what was being done was laid out clearly, but many then, as now, didn’t find the news disturbing. ”You are overwhelmed by the fact that people are so out of touch with reality and what is right and what is wrong,” he said. “The amazing thing is that this obviously hasn’t changed.”

The news didn’t get out as far as it has with the current controversy, he continued. “I don’t think the media was nearly as aware. The average individual wasn’t as aware of what was actually going on as they are now. I think back then the penetration of the news on this issue was not to the depth and level that it is today.”

Congress was trying to make the practice illegal, he said, but “the problem is the utilization of that tissue is rationalized for a better purpose,” which meant there were financial and political incentives to preserve the market in fetal remains.

Further, he continued, there is a limit to what Congress can do. The laws that let abortionists traffic in fetal parts “are executive branch decisions and bureaucratic rulings. Congress could reverse them if Congress wanted to do it. But it requires a large, overwhelming vote.” That kind of majority is almost impossible to get, he said.

Part of the answer was in a return to the constitutional principles of federalism, with strict limits on what the federal government can do and most of the authority for decisions on such matters left to the states. “Anything that comes out of a Presidential Executive Order or a bureaucracy, like Health and Human Services or National Institute of Health, should have to be approved by our elected members of Congress, which is not the way it is right now. Congress did not do this — Congress could not do this.”

Defunding Planned Parenthood won’t eradicate the problem, he said, pointing out that it is a billion dollar a year business. (Planned Parenthood took in $1.4 billion last year with a profit of $127 million.) Abortion is such a big part of their business they’re not going to let anyone take it away from them without a bruising fight.

There Is a Solution

The problem, he emphasized several times, is moral and spiritual. “The very fact that we do these things and we consider them normal tells you where our culture is.” That culture determines what a legislature can do, and even if “pro-life legislation is passed, it can’t create the necessary spiritual change.”

“That’s how far we have rationalized this. Cowards rationalize things for expedient purposes all the time. To me it’s pretty black and white. We passed the corner of which morality has an input in the judgment of our nation. And the only way you fix that is with a spiritual renewal.”

“I don’t think we are any different than any other culture that is in decline, because we’ve abandoned the truth that’s set us free and we’ve abandoned the faith that gave us the moral values that allowed us to succeed. I don’t think it’s amazing at all that we have come to this. You see it in other cultures that are in decline. But yes, there is a solution. It’s in a spiritual renewal throughout our country.”


The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

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