WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of a congressional panel wrapping up its investigation into the medical and business practices of abortion providers said Wednesday it has submitted 15 criminal referrals to federal and state officials for further investigation into possible violations of the law.
The referrals, issued over the course of the panel’s year-long investigation, target biomedical companies in California, the University of New Mexico, abortion clinics in Arkansas and Florida, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas and California.
Three of the referrals — against the biomedical company StemExpress and the University of New Mexico — were made earlier this year. The other referral letters, however, were sent in November and December and have not been previously made public.
The panel, formally known as the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, has spent a year looking into how abortion providers handle fetal tissue.
Democrats on the panel have blasted the investigation as a “witch-hunt” and issued their own report earlier this month report arguing it had found no evidence of wrongdoing by health care providers, researchers, or tissue procurement companies.
But the panel’s Republican chairman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, said in a statement Wednesday the investigation uncovered evidence that abortion clinics and companies that procure fetal tissue for research may have violated a federal law that makes it illegal to profit from the sale of human fetal tissue.
The panel’s referrals also suggest that StemExpress may have destroyed documents that were the subject of congressional inquiries and that some entities may have violated the privacy rights of women for the purpose of collecting fetal tissue to make money.
“Speaking as a woman, I am deeply troubled by what we have learned about the mistreatment of patients at a particularly difficult and vulnerable time in their lives,” Blackburn said. “They are being treated with a disregard for their best interests and their rights as patients.”
Blackburn said the panel has seen instances where “profit-driven” procurement companies have acted in conjunction with abortion clinics to violate women’s privacy rights and other instances where women have been asked to sign misleading consent forms saying fetal tissue has been used to cure diseases for which there is no cure.
The criminal referrals suggest the biomedical companies may have profited illegally from the sale of fetal tissue, that the University of New Mexico may have improperly received fetal tissue from an abortion provider and that the other abortion providers may have illegally sent fetal tissue to StemExpress.
StemExpress and the university have said they are confident they have not broken the law.
The panel also asked the Texas Attorney General and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate claims that a Texas abortion provider violated numerous state and federal laws regulating late-term abortions.
The 14-member panel was formed last year after a firestorm over undercover videos that accused Planned Parenthood of breaking federal laws by selling the tissues and organs of aborted fetuses.
Planned Parenthood and its supporters said the videos were deceptively edited. A number of state investigations cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.
Planned Parenthood dismissed the referrals as “simply part of an orchestrated effort to attack Planned Parenthood and safe, legal abortion.”
“Planned Parenthood has never profited while facilitating its patients’ choice to donate fetal tissue for use in important medical research,” said Dana Singiser, the group’s vice president of affairs.
Singiser noted that Planned Parenthood cooperated with investigators, providing nearly 30,000 pages of documents, and granting nine interviews with Planned Parenthood staff across the country.
“Planned Parenthood strongly disagrees with the recommendations of Chairman Marsha Blackburn,” Singiser said.
The panel’s final report will be completed by the end of the year, a spokesman said, but Blackburn and other committee members will decide when to make it public.
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/2icayxA