Planned Parenthood videos turn spotlight on U of M research practices

| December 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

The series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials and affiliates discussing the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses has hit closer to home in the ninth video released in September from the Center for Medical Progress.

In it, a representative from California-based Advanced Bioscience Resources is shown describing its fetal tissue harvesting practice to a prospective buyer, mentioning that the company works with clinics in Minnesota.

At a Nov. 19 presentation at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Teresa Stanton Collett, St. Thomas law professor and director of its Prolife Center, and Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, explained how the information in the footage not only violates federal law, but also Minnesota State law.

After introducing their remarks with clips from the video, Collett said Minnesota’s fetal disposal law clearly states that hospitals, clinics, medical facilities and laboratories must provide for the disposal of miscarried or aborted fetuses through either burial or cremation.

“This does not include grinding body parts in the clinic,” said Collett, who noted she wasn’t speaking as a medical professional.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, Twin Cities-based AlphaNews, an online news resource, obtained purchase orders that showed the University of Minnesota bought fetal organs from Advanced Bioscience Resources for research purposes. One from May 8, 2014, lists the purchase of two livers from second trimester fetuses for $325 each. The university paid $175 for lung tissue of a 16-22 week fetus. Collett noted that in Japan, the fetus is considered viable at 22 weeks; in the U.S., a baby is considered viable at 23-24 weeks gestation.

Because the law applies only after the fetus has developed cartilage, around eight weeks, early abortions are not included in the requirement. But the university’s purchase order records show 13- to 24-week fetal organs being purchased. According to the Center for Medical Progress, the sale or purchase of human fetal tissue is a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $500,000.

The university’s purchase orders with ABR date back to 2008.

Student protest

Collett said the university’s procurement practice didn’t go unnoticed. In October, students held a demonstration, asking for an investigation and clarification of the university’s policy from President Eric Kaler, holding signs that read “Questions for Kaler” and “Investigate before it’s too late.”

“These students were protesting that their own institution was involved in what they considered inhumane and gruesome research, research that is less regulated by internal policy than the University of Minnesota’s guidelines on animal research,” Collett said. “We have clear, federal guidelines, which are to be enforced first and formally through the institutional research board, which every university has.”

In an October letter to two regents who sought to clarify the university’s processes related to procuring human fetal tissue, Kaler wrote, “The University does not know all of the various sources of fetal tissue procured by ABR. However, ABR has informed the University that it procures tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country, including up until July 2015, clinics in Minnesota.”

Kaler went on to say that any change in policy to prohibit the acquisition of fetal tissue from suppliers who procure tissue from induced abortions would hinder all of the university’s fetal tissue research. He claimed the university was abiding by federal and state laws and regulations, and would continue to do so.

A couple days earlier, also in a letter to regents, the university’s vice president for research, Brian Herman, wrote that the university’s policies “do not comprehensively address the disposition of fetal tissue used in research,” but would immediately begin “handling the procurement of fetal tissue and disposal after its use for research.”

Gibson said every entity that receives the aborted babies’ remains is under Minnesota law, “so if the abortion facility is selling the body parts to the middleman — ABR — the abortion facility has violated Minnesota law. As soon as ABR receives them — and they pay for them — they can’t sell them. Minnesota law now applies to them. Now they must [do] cremation or burial. And then once it goes to the U of M or other research institute, they are obligated to follow that law. So, each of these entities are showing signs of violating that law.”

Outside reports named Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, as calling for the school to “ban the use and purchase of aborted fetal tissue.”

Pointing to what the university has done by procuring body parts of aborted fetuses, Collett advanced a PowerPoint slide that pictured a “humanized mouse.”

Citing St. John Paul II’s “Gospel of Life,” Collett said the objection of such practices speaks to “the dignity with which every human body deserves, the human body that bore the incarnation of Christ.”

“We are fans of research,” she continued. “And the idea that a grieving mother or father after the stillbirth of their child believes that they can be helped from the organs of that child isn’t contrary to our faith. But to cause the death of a child and then to cannibalize that child in the name of any sort of so-called human progress is wrong. And our law does not allow this. It makes a clear distinction.”

Looking to legislators

Collett said it’s up to state legislators to seek legal action against the University of Minnesota and others potentially implicated in the videos because the violation is deemed a public nuisance, which must be brought by a public official. She said leaders in the state House of Representatives are in the process of having conversations around this.

If legal action is to happen, Collett said it would be under the purview of the Ramsey County Attorneys Office because ABR works out of St. Paul. The penalty is a misdemeanor. Collett said she’s skeptical about legal ramifications given Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s connections to the abortion industry. Gibson noted Choi was the featured guest at a political fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota in September.

Dennis Gerhardstein, public information officer for the Ramsey County Attorneys Office, told The Catholic Spirit that legal action would more likely be under the purview of the St. Paul City Attorneys Office.

Chuck and Denise Waletzko, parishioners of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, attended the presentation and have been following the videos since they were first released.

“Any information a person receives is more ammunition they can share with people, especially in this day of social media, so people can see the truth — the truth in love,” said Denise, who heads the parish’s respect life ministry.

With political officials “turning a blind eye” to the violations, Chuck likened the “hypocrisy” to “the stink of Auschwitz that everybody is pretending not to smell.”

Denise added: “If you can’t see it now, if you don’t want to see it now, it really comes down to are you for, or are you against [abortion]? There is no gray any more.”

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