Just over a year ago the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) began to release a series of undercover videos chronicling Planned Parenthood’s alarming practice of selling body parts of aborted victims– livers, kidneys, eyeballs, brains, and more – for research. Not only are members of the public shocked by what we saw, so are pro-life state political leaders. They have begun to respond, and this article gives a summary of what has been done and what we can expect.
The goal is to eliminate selling, research on the tissues and organs, and inhumane disposition of the bodies of aborted babies. But is this possible? And if so, to what extent?
Hostile Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court has severely tied the hands of the Texas Legislature. First, Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) prevent states from banning abortions before viability, the point at which the abortion doctor judges a child can continue to live outside the womb. Second, in the recent Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision, the Court even prohibits Texas from implementing two key safety components of HB 2. The Court, quoting Casey, dismissed the regulations as “[un]necessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion or impose an undue burden on that right.”
Given these severe limitations, can Texas protect any of the human dignity of the unborn babies who are aborted? Texas Alliance for Life thinks so. Fortunately, we are not alone, and a great deal of activity is underway to address this injustice – both in preparation for the next state legislative session beginning in January 2017 – all of which Texas Alliance for Life strongly supports.
Identifying the Abuses
Our review of current state laws – statutes and agency rules, CMP undercover videos, and stories in the conventional media reveal three areas of grave concern:
- Texas state law prohibits the sale of human tissue and organs, including tissue and organs harvested from aborted babies, except to cover the cost of harvesting the tissues and organs. This exception has been exploited by abortion facilities to justify selling baby body parts. The woman must give consent, but the consenting process can have serious ethical flaws. Also, the consent process allows exploiting of women. One California Planned Parenthood consent form falsely claims that “tissue that has been aborted has been used to treat and find a cure for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS.” When Abby Johnson worked at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, she and others were paid a bonus for each woman who consented to donating tissues and organs of their unborn babies, according to her testimony before the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
- Research on tissue and organs from aborted babies, both harvested in Texas and imported from outside of Texas, is entirely legal in Texas and goes at several public universities.
- Current Department of State Health Services (DSHS) rules allow the bodies of unborn babies who die from from elective abortion as well as miscarriage to be disposed of in the same fashion as medical waste, including “grinding and discharging into a sanitary sewer system” (a city sewer system) and “incineration followed by deposition . . . in a sanitary landfill” (a city dump).
Texas Alliance for Life’s Position
Texas Alliance for Life believes there should be a complete ban on the sale of baby body parts from elective abortion. Research on the remains after a miscarriage should be permitted after proper consent of the parents.
We support a complete ban on research on victims of abortion at public and private institutions regardless of where the tissue and organs are harvested. We do support appropriate research on the bodies of miscarried babies with the appropriate consent of their parents.
We support changes to the DSHS rules to require humane disposition of the bodies of abortion victims, for example, by cremation or by burial in a cemetery. We would also like to see those rules strengthened by passage of a bill by the Legislature.
Governor Abbott’s LIFE Initiative
As Planned Parenthood began to be investigated, Governor Greg Abbott released his LIFE Initiative to protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts. He announced that a coalition of legislators support the following plan:
- Laws changed to make partial-birth abortion a felony in Texas and make it illegal to endanger women by altering abortions for sale of baby parts,
- Improve/expand adoption services and awareness about Texas child support,
- Funding for Planned Parenthood COMPLETELY ELIMINATED, and
- Eliminate sale of baby body parts by abortion facilities.
Texas Alliance for Life strongly supports each component of the LIFE Initiative.
Interim Committee Hearings
On July 29, 2015, pro-life state Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), chairman of the powerful Senate Health and Human Services Committee, conducted a hearing on the sale of baby body parts at Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities. This hearing was consistent with an interim charge given by pro-life Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. Though invited, Planned Parenthood failed to testify, instead sending a letter blasting the process. “We believe this committee has no desire to hold a responsible, fair, fact-driven hearing,” they wrote.
The hearing confirmed that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has engaged in selling baby body parts as recently as 2011. Abby Johnson, the director of their Bryan, Texas, abortion facility through October 2009 testified that they harvested and sold organs during her time there too.
The House responded as well. Pro-life Speaker Joe Straus charged the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), to conduct a hearing to “ensure informed consent and that all state and federal laws sufficiently respect the dignity of the human body,” among other concerns, at abortion facilities. A staunch supporter of a long list of pro-life bills, Cook convened his committee on April 28, 2016. Representatives testified from two public university systems where research involving tissue from aborted babies is conducted – the University of Texas and Texas Tech. They defended the research as scientifically important.
Dr. David Prentice, vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, calls fetal tissue research “functionally obsolete.”
Treating Abortion Victims Like Medical Waste
Several examples demonstrate the callous behavior of the abortion industry in Texas and nationwide:
- In 2005, a broken line caused raw sewage to spread across a parking lot adjacent to the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center in Houston. One witness saw “human body parts” among the exposed sewage.
- In 2011, two Whole Woman’s Health abortion facilities in Austin and McAllen were fined more than $80,000 by the Texas Commision on Environmental Quality for illegal disposal of babies’ remains.
- A Students for Life of America video shows an abortion facility operator discussing the methods she uses for disposing the remains of victims of abortions.
These examples show an immediate need to change agency rules as soon as possible, even before the Legislature meets in January.
Alarmed at the disrespect of aborted babies in practice and what current law allows, Chairman Cook wrote several letters to the agencies that regulate abortion facilities asking for a change of the rules. He wrote:
The purpose of this letter is to strongly urge the agency to immediately modify this rule, as it is unfathomable that these options for disposal of aborted or miscarried babies were ever written into rule and have been applicable for 27 years.
In response to the requests from Governor Abbott and Chairman Cook, DSHS published proposed changes to rules regarding the humane disposition of the bodies of unborn children after elective abortions on July 1, 2016. The main changes are that grinding and flushing babies’ remains into a sewer system and dumping the remains into a landfill would be banned. Other options like cremation or burial in a cemetery would remain.
Some 19,000 comments have been received in response. The House Republican Caucus submitted a letter signed by 90 state representatives supporting the rules. It reads:
Through the years, the Texas House has heard testimony from countless women who testified with great pain and sorrow after undergoing the termination of a pregnancy, and our government should not exacerbate their suffering or that of other women by allowing the remains of babies to be disposed of through the current allowable method of “grinding and discharging” to a commercial garbage disposal.
The department conducted a lengthy public hearing on August 4 at which approximately 90 people testified. Numerous pro-life organization testified in support. I gave the following testimony:
It is unconscionable that anyone would defend the grinding and flushing down the drain into a city’s sewer system the bodies of unborn babies who are victims of abortion as if they were medical waste. Yet that is what these organizations are here to do.
Pro-abortion groups including NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Planned Parenthood Action Fund testified vigorously against the proposals.
The Texas Legislature convenes in January. Look for bills to ban the grisly method of partial-birth abortion used by some abortion doctors to harvest organs by keeping the babies’ bodies intact. Also look for bills to ban the sale or donation of tissue and organs after elective abortions as well as to require humane disposition of victims of abortion.
In the meantime, the DSHS rule changes could be adopted this fall and go in effect before Christmas.