Squishy wording of a 1993 Republican-backed law overturning a ban on government-funded fetal tissue research is at the heart of the recent allegations against Planned Parenthood.
The law bans profit from the exchange of fetal tissue, but allows organizations to receive broadly defined “reasonable payments” that apparently make the ban meaningless in practice.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce,” the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 reads.
But it later clarifies: “The term ‘valuable consideration’ does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”
The Center for Medical Progress has alleged Planned Parenthood is breaking this law by profiting from the sale of aborted fetal tissue, presenting a series of undercover videos in which Planned Parenthood officials discuss the cost of procuring and distributing the tissue. (RELATED: See How The Research Sausage Is Made In Latest Planned Parenthood Video)
But Planned Parenthood maintains it is charging legal fees and is not profiting from the exchange.
A U.S. House committee is investigating Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices, but it’s unclear what exactly anyone could find that would constitute a violation of the law.
“It appears to be legal, no matter how much you charge,” Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center told The New York Times. “It’s a very gray and musty area as to what you can charge.”
Planned Parenthood doctors discuss fees ranging from $30 to $75 per specimen in the videos, but the middlemen they provide tissue then turn around and charge sometimes thousands of dollars to the actual researchers working with the tissue.
StemExpress, one such middleman targeted in the videos, reportedly grew 1,316 percent in three years, making $2.2 million of revenue in 2013. Founder Cate Dyer told the Times it is expensive to isolate the exact cells researchers need, and the fees it charges are legal.
“These are hard processes, expensive processes that take millions of dollars of equipment,” Dyer told the Times. A vial of five million frozen fetal liver cells can cost more than $24,000.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and 38 other Senate Republicans voted for the 1993 bill, which also overturned a temporary ban imposed by Ronald Reagan on government-funded studies of aborted fetal tissue. Sens. Richard Shelby, John McCain, Dan Coats, Chuck Grassley, Thad Cochran and Orrin Hatch were among the 39 Republicans who voted for the bill.
“The videos have raised important questions about whether Planned Parenthood has violated that law,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told The Daily Caller News Foundation, saying the law includes strong criminal penalties for violators. Stewart did not address what exactly would constitute an illegal profit under the law.
McConnell supported the Senate effort to defund Planned Parenthood Monday, however the bill failed.
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