Big Business and Bad Government: Washington has Known about the Abortion Aftermarket for 15 Years, but has Failed to Fix It.
After the end of each day’s business, an inconspicuous unmarked van pulls up to the back of the neighborhood abortion clinic. Carrying an orange plastic cooler, the driver enters through an unlocked back door and exits moments later, cooler full. Inside the ice chest are opaque, heavy-duty sealed plastic bags.
One bag contains the relatively intact body of a mid-term human fetus. The mother’s general health and statistics are noted on the bag along with the baby’s blood type. Several other bags hold the bloody slurry of early term abortion remains; some contain various body parts — brains, livers, kidneys, eyes, umbilical cords — and others have a random mix of tissue, detached limbs and heads.
These details are obtained from a physician who operated a late term abortion clinic in Maryland. I approached him in 2009 as a journalist doing an article on the life sciences industry. He was in the process of selling out to another doctor and leaving the abortion center. While he asked me not to use his name in my report, he was very forthcoming about the process for fetal tissue harvesting and transport. He made clear that what is described above is business as usual in the fetal body parts industry in America. Many a child is slaughtered in the womb and then rendered, packaged and brokered to a multitude of industries, whose products and projects comprise the aftermarket for the roughly 1.2 million U.S. abortions annually.
It’s big business and getting bigger. To all indications it operates relatively free of regulatory oversight, and this not from a lack of scandal: Not long after I interviewed the unnamed doctor above, Dr. Leroy Carhart took over the clinics, and in 2013 a woman died from a 33-week abortion in the clinic described above.
Now, this month, the first videos in what the Center for Medical Progress promises will be a rolling barrage of undercover videos has put this dark business back into the public spotlight. In response to the first sting video, Planned Parenthood stated that “similar false accusations have been put forth by opponents of abortion services for decades” and “these groups have been widely discredited.” What Planned Parenthood does not mention is that many of the accusations they dismiss have come not from “opponents of abortion services” but from the abortion industry’s own employees and proponents.
Prior to 1993, use of fetal tissue for medical research or any other application was illegal, excepting if the tissue was derived from an ectopic pregnancy or spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). Then in 1993, President Bill Clinton ordered the end of the moratorium on federal funds for research using fetal tissue. Later in 1993, Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act, which permits the use of fetal tissue from any type of abortion for biomedical research, with a stipulation limiting payment to “reasonable fees for obtaining and delivery of tissue.” And so began the abortion aftermarket industry, with fetal tissue retrieval companies delivering fetal material from abortion clinics to tissue repository banks, who in turn listed their wares with brokers who then sold baby body parts to laboratories and commercial concerns throughout the world. The industry was off and running.
By the late ’90s, the sale of “services” in the procuring and processing of aborted fetal body parts became a thriving, though somewhat primitive private industry. Tissue labs forged partnerships with public and private abortion clinics to provide baby body parts for both commercial business concerns and National Institute of Health-funded laboratories.
How profitable was this new industry? The consulting firm of Frost and Sullivan reported that “the worldwide market for cell lines and tissue cultures brought in nearly $428 million in corporate revenues in 1996. It (was) further predicted that between 1996 and 2003, the market would grow at an average annual rate of 13.5 percent and, by 2002, would be worth nearly $1 billion.”
This abortion aftermarket was in full swing by 1999 when Dean Alberty, Jr., an abortion tissue retrieval technician working for Anatomic Gift Foundation, a Maryland-based fetal tissue company, sparked a public outcry by speaking out about the atrocities he had witnessed on the job.
Alberty had grown disgusted with his involvement in what he called “the rendering of baby bodies for parts.” Missy Smith, founder of the watchdog organization WAKEUP in Washington, D.C., recalls what Alberty cited to her as the incident that drove him over the edge:
Dean was a simple man who had a rather gruesome job. At that time the tissue retrieval companies would rent space in the back rooms of abortion clinics so that they could process the fetal tissue while it was still as fresh as possible. One day in a D.C. metro area abortion clinic Dean was doing his job of dissecting a just-aborted fetus. The abortion doctor came in with a square metal tub. In the tub was a set of twins, about six or so months of gestation, still moving, still alive.
Dean refused to process the fetuses, telling the doctor, ‘I will not murder those babies!’ The doctor proceeded to fill the tub with water and drown the twins. He handed the tub back to Dean, telling him he could ‘get on with his job now.’”
Dean’s allegations came to the attention of Mark Crutcher, head of Life Dynamics, in Denton, Texas. Dean ultimately produced copies of over fifty orders for fetal body parts from laboratories throughout the U.S. and Canada, along with a price list from Open Lines, Inc., Dr. Jones’ human tissue processing company based in West Frankfort, Illinois. Crutcher sent the information he had gathered to all the members of Congress in late 1999.
The information was also leaked to media outlets such as ABC and CNN. The Orange County Register, The Washington Times and several Canadian publications began investigating and exposing macabre and inhumane practices in fetal tissue labs and abortion clinics. Soon ABC’s 20/20 produced a program about the baby body parts industry presented by journalist Connie Chung. The 20/20 exposé aired on March 8, 2000, focusing attention on a congressional hearing the following day before the Sub-Committee for Health and Environment. There Alberty gave emotional testimony about his involvement in the industry and its impact on his life:
Upon taking the job as a fetal tissue procurement tech, I was under the impression that what I was going to do would make life better for Parkinson’s patients, Alzheimer’s and cancer patients. Never was I led to believe that the tissue would be anything but helpful for those in need … What changed my mind was watching late-term abortions, seeing their eyes looking at me as I cut through their skull to extract their brain for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients, cutting open their chest cavity, only to see a beating heart moving ever so slowly until it stopped … Night after night in my sleep, the (drowned) twins always were there. Hearts were beating … mothers screaming. The respect for myself was gone. How could the heroes of my life understand what I witnessed?
Congress Fails to Fix the Problem
Ultimately many in Congress concluded that the fetal tissue supply segment of the industry needed greater oversight, and HR3980 “Human Fetal Tissue Reporting and Disclosure Act of 2000” was proposed. Spearheaded by Oklahoma Rep. Tom Coburn, M.D., the bill called for an Amendment to the Public Health Service Act to require entities that distributed and received fetal tissue for any purpose, other than solely for purpose of pathological examination, to file a detailed disclosure statement with the Secretary of Health and Human Services enumerating everything from the type and condition of the fetal parts in a given transaction to the amount paid. Violation of the section would be punishable by a fine of not less than $10,000 per incident.
The hope was that the bill, if made into law, would make it next to impossible for the fetal industry in the United States to get rich off of aborted babies since the 1993 NIH Revitalization Act already appeared to stipulate that fees should be set no higher than was needed to cover preservation and shipping costs. The paper trail on the way to any financial funny business would simply be too easy to follow, and the potential financial penalty for failing to file accurate paperwork too steep to risk.
Many pro-lifers assumed the Congressional attention had taken down the baby body part brokering industry. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The year 2000 was Rep. Coburn’s last year in the House (he voluntarily term-limited himself out, keeping a promise from his original run for the seat in 1994), and without his oversight the bill that would have regulated the activities of the maverick abortion aftermarket industry died in committee. Coburn returned to the Hill as a Senator in 2004, but by then the bill was ancient history.
A decade later in 2009, with the help of several pro-life organization watchdogs, I took a fresh look into the abortion aftermarket industry. The investigation reveled that a new, more sophisticated breed of tissue laboratories had evolved. The industry that had begun by supplying fetal tissue for NIH research had expanded to offering it for private biomedical laboratories in the United States and other countries. Many of the companies that brokered fetal tissue were global biomedical conglomerates that generate many billions of dollars in revenues annually. And my best estimate at the time was that the abortion aftermarket had grown into an $85 billion industry.
The raw material for this industry comes from only one place — abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood. What is their cut in these enormous profits? Since there is precious little statutory oversight into the harvesting, processing, transporting, sale and end use of commercially brokered baby body parts, it’s hard to know.
What is known is that the fetal aftermarket industry has been with us now for at least 22 years and makes billions of dollars a year off the bodies of the unborn. All the attention at the moment is on the sting videos showing Planned Parenthood’s calloused and profitable involvement in this industry. What the public needs to recognize is that others have spoken out from inside the industry without the need of a sting video to draw out the truth. These include nurses who were made to let aborted babies born alive die alone in cold metal tubs.
What the public also needs to know is that a season of short-lived outrage is not enough. The public was outraged in 2000, and many people thought something was done about the baby body shop industry. But the industry’s lobbyists went to work, the politicians went on summer break, football season started, attentions wandered and now here we are, watching videos exposing what we should have known all along — there is a burgeoning and thriving baby body market here in the United States, where flesh is bought and sold and none of the people on the auction block get out alive.