House Committee Misses Point on ‘Fetal Tissue Donations’

Earlier today, the House State Affairs Committee in the Texas State Legislature held an interim hearing to examine, among other topics, fetal tissue donations.  House interim charges will provide guidance to our elected officials as they consider the priority of various legislative issues facing the state during the biennial Legislative Session in 2017.  While the subject of fetal tissue trafficking and donation is a crucial state issue (with documented instances of possible abuse in this area having been divulged), most Republican members on the committee are already fumbling the issue before the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature has even begun by ignoring strong policy solutions recommended by Pro-Life activists and Texas Right to Life.

Today, members of the legislative committee were more concerned about tweaking existing fetal tissue donation laws than examining the strongest solution (recommended by the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General) of prohibiting the use of the bodies of victims of elective abortions for scientific research.  This unethical practice should not be allowed in Texas.  Pro-Life activists and Texas Right to Life have been very clear that donating the bodies of children who tragically passed away from natural miscarriages is the only ethical and Pro-Life scientific research in this field.  However, the members of the House of Representatives neglected this critical point.

The hearing follows the release of the notoriously scandalous undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives and staff discussing their business model of trafficking fetal tissue after elective abortions.  The most shocking and disturbing video revealed the injustice of elective abortion from inside the behemoth Gulf Coast Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Houston.

Immediately following the release of the very first undercover videos last summer, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick charged the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to look into the practices and to issue possible violations of law; their timely investigation occurred in July.  In August, Governor Greg Abbott released his LIFE Initiative, which endorses strengthening the penalties for abortionists who perform horrific partial birth abortions and outlaws, “any sale or transaction of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic for any purpose whatsoever.”

House leadership was not as swift in their response to the video evidence of abortion industry abuse.  Joe Straus, who bore the responsibility of timely action, waited to address the issue until he released all his interim charges in November.  Anti-climactically, Straus’s limp interim charges paid only tepid lip service to the State’s Pro-Life position.

Under the charges for the House Committee on State Affairs, Straus recommends the committee examine only reforms to the procurement and use of human fetal tissue.  The charge includes “studying the policies used by research and medical entities to adhere to the highest ethical standards for acquiring human fetal tissue for medical and scientific purposes.”  Straus instructs the House State Affairs Committee to “review compliance to ensure informed consent and that all state and federal laws sufficiently respect the dignity of the human body.”

Straus thwarted the opportunity to redeem the flimsiness of his interim charges on Life at today’s hearing.  Chairman Byron Cook and committee members struggled even to condemn the practices of Planned Parenthood and propose strong solutions to this issue.

While Chairman Cook did invite two higher education institutions in Texas who have participated in research on fetal tissue, the committee did not press the witnesses about their procurement standards.  In fact, during the hearing, members of the committee merely asked Ray Greenberg from the University of Texas whether he would support reforms to informed consent and higher anti-contamination policies.

The taxpayer-funded researcher from University of Texas praised a long list of scientific research projects currently underway in Texas, including projects using fetal tissue. However, State Affairs failed to ask the witness if the research projects would be able to continue by using only fetal tissue donated from natural miscarriages.

The most outspoken members of the committee focused on informed consent policies for women donating the body parts of their children, anti-contamination rules, and inspections on abortion clinics, not outlawing the currently legal and unethical donation of preborn victims of elective abortion.

Chairman Cook alluded to his belief that donating bodies of children who tragically passed away from natural miscarriages is the only ethical, Pro-Life approach to scientific research in this field.  However, without pursuit of a solution to right an existing wrong law, Cook concluded the discussion by indicating that the committee is most interested in amending the informed consent rules pertaining to the manner a mother donates her child’s body after an abortion.

The disappointing hearing was closed to public comment and limited in witness testimony.  In addition to two witnesses from research institutions and two officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services, only two invited witnesses were allowed to address the issue from a Pro-Life perspective.

Unfortunately, Texas Right to Life, the largest and oldest Pro-Life organization in the state, was not invited to address this pressing Pro-Life issue.  However, John Seago, Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life, was featured on the invited panel in the Senate hearing last July.  There, Texas Right to Life sent the message that a clear and enforceable ban on donating or trafficking the baby body parts of victims of elective abortion is the only acceptable response to this protracted Planned Parenthood scandal.  Furthermore, Texas Right to Life continues to remind the Legislature that the issue of fetal tissue trafficking is merely a defensive measure and that the Legislature needs to continue to examine and prepare to pass life-saving legislation that will bring the Pro-Life movement closer to stopping abortions, protecting pregnant women, and leading us closer to overturning Roe v. Wade.  The primary legislation that will accomplish this is a Dismemberment Abortion Ban.

The apathy seen in today’s hearing does not bode well for advancing Pro-Life measures immediately or in 2017.  The disposition of House leadership towards dynamic and needed Pro-Life measures in Texas will unequivocally determine the success or failure of those pursuits.  We hope and pray that, between now and the start of the 85th Session, the hearts and minds of our elected officials in the House will be moved towards the cause of LIFE and the defense of the most vulnerable Texans.