Tag Archives: medical research

Anti-abortion activists indicted over phony videos targeting Planned Parenthood

A Houston grand jury has indicted anti-abortion activists who released a phony undercover video making it appear as if Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers for a profit — a violation of federal law. The video stirred Republican outrage and led to investigations and defunding of the group in many states, including Wisconsin.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive and sexual health care to poor women.

The grand jury indicted David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs. Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

At the same time the anti-abortion activists were indicted, Planned Parenthood was exonerated of any wrong doing, although it’s unlikely the “pro-life” movement will believe the findings or let up in their obsessive crusade to destroy the group.

The Texas jury was the first to charge the hoaxsters criminally since the videos were released last year, setting off a maelstrom on the fringes of the religious right.

The footage from a clinic in Houston showed people pretending to be from a company called BioMax that procures fetal tissue for medical research. Fetal tissue research led to the vaccine for polio and other major medical advancements. It’s currently helping to make gains against Alzheimer’s, cancer and other major diseases.

Planned Parenthood has previously said that the fake company sent an agreement offering to pay the “astronomical amount” of $1,600 for organs from a fetus. The clinic said it never entered into the agreement and ceased contact with BioMax because it was “disturbed” by the overtures.

In a statement announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs. Her office said it could not disclose more information and a court spokesman said it was unclear whether copies of the indictments, which typically provide more insight, would be made public.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson, an elected Republican, said in her statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”

Daleiden issued a statement saying that his group “uses the same undercover techniques” as investigative journalists and follows all applicable laws.

“We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well,” he said.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has his own ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood, said Monday that the “the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life.”

The Texas video was the fifth released by the Center for Medical Progress.

Planned Parenthood has said a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursements for the costs of transporting tissue donated by some of its abortion clients to labs. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.

The group called Monday’s indictments the latest in a string of victories since the videos were released, saying that by its count, 11 state investigations have cleared the nation’s largest abortion provider of claims that it profited from fetal tissue donation.

“This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies,” said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Before the Texas video was released, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia. Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if a patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research.

Despite the lofty name of the Center for Medical Progress, public filings suggest only a small number of people are affiliated with the nonprofit, none of whom are scientists or physicians engaged in advancing medical treatments. The people named as its top officers are longtime anti-abortion activists with a history of generating headlines.

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued the center in a California federal court, alleging extensive criminal misconduct. The lawsuit says the center’s videos were the result of numerous illegalities, including making recordings without consent, registering false identities with state agencies and violating non-disclosure agreements.

Associated Press Writers Juan A. Lozano in Houston, Will Weissert in Austin and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Colorado gunman: ‘No more baby parts’

“No more baby parts.”

Those were the words terrorist Robert Lewis Dear spoke to a law-enforcement official on Nov. 28 shortly after he was taken into custody for allegedly staging a long and deadly shooting attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Clinic.

The official could not elaborate about the comment and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

Afer a long, brutal standoff on a snowy afternoon during which portions of Colorado Springs were on lockdown, those words seemed to answer at least one question about the incident in which 12 citizens and police officers were shot and three, including a police officer, killed: Why?

Witnesses to the shooting have also told media sources and Planned Parenthood staff that the shooter was clearly motivated by opposition to choice.

At a vigil held at All Souls Unitarian Church on the evening of the shootings, the Rev. Nori Rost called the gunman a “domestic terrorist.” In the back of the room, someone held a sign that said: “Women’s bodies are not battlefields. Neither is our town.”

Vicki Cowart, the regional head of Planned Parenthood, drew a standing ovation when she walked to the pulpit and promised to quickly reopen the clinic. “We will adapt. We will square our shoulders and we will go on,” she said.

Cowart also said that all 15 clinic employees survived and worked hard to make sure everyone else got into safe spaces and stayed quiet.

Demonstrating the divisiveness of the issue even in friendly territory, after Cowart’s remarks, a woman in the audience stood up, objected to the vigil becoming a “political statement” and left.

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, like virtually all of the group’s clinics, has long been the site of regular anti-abortion protests. Colorado Springs is home to a very large population of born-again Christians. The anti-gay hate group Focus on the Family is headquartered there.

A Roman Catholic priest who’s held weekly Mass in front of the clinic for 20 years, distanced himself from Dear, saying that he wasn’t part of his group. “I don’t know him from Adam,” said Rev. Bill Carmody. “I don’t recognize him at all.”

The public might learn more about Dear’s motives on Monday, when he makes his first court appearance. Officially, police have not yet presented a motive to the public, although it seemed obvious. As Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers put it, people can make “inferences from where (the shooting) took place.”

Planned Parenthood has been under increased physical and verbal attacks since July, when an undercover video released by anti-choice activists appeared to show PP personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs. It was later determined that the video had been misleadingly edited. The truth is that the group only recouped preservation and shipping charges for fetal tissue that women ending their pregnancies asked to have donated to science, which is legal. Since the controversy, however, Planned Parenthood has taken the extra step of no longer recouping costs but rather paying the associated costs on its own.

Dears’ comment about “baby parts” likely refers to the controversial video.

Fetal tissue research has been responsible for some of the greatest medical treatment achievements of the last several decades, including the development of a polio vaccine.

In the wake of the killings, David Daleiden, who heads the Center for Medical Progress, the group that released the manipulated videotapes of Planned Parenthood, said he opposed the violence.

“The Center for Medical Progress condemns the barbaric killing spree in Colorado Springs by a violent madman. We applaud the heroic efforts of law enforcement to stop the violence quickly and rescue the victims, and our thoughts and prayers are with the wounded, the lost, and their families,” Daleiden said in a statement.

No wrongdoing

Multiple investigations in red states have uncovered no wrongdoing on PP’s part in charging storage and transportation fees for fetal tissue. But that hasn’t stopped politicians, especially GOP presidential candidates, from invoking the tapes often on the campaign trail in an effort to draw the support of fundamentalist Christian voters, who likely will determine the winner of the first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses in Iowa in February.

Demonizing rhetoric about Planned Parenthood has become a sure-fire way to inspire cheers and applause at conservative Republican events.

Eager to get in on that action, Republicans in Congress, who have a 9 percent approval rating among their own party’s voters, staged a Congressional hearing on the tapes to rally conservative support. That investigation, too, found no wrongdoing.

“We demand an end to the incendiary rhetoric from anti-abortion activists and lawmakers that demonizes Planned Parenthood doctors and patients,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The smear campaign and false accusations that motivated the attack in Colorado Springs must stop.”

Following the shooting, Ted Cruz was the first GOP presidential candidate to offer condolences to the loved ones of the victims.  

At a campaign stop, Cruz responded angrily to a reporter’s question linking Dear with the anti-choice movement, according to the Texas Tribune

“It’s also been reported that (Dear) was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist,” Cruz shot back. “If that’s what he is, I don’t think it’s fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.”

Cruz is heavily backed by some of the nation’s most extreme anti-choice activists.

Ironically, although Cruz took exception to what he called attempts by the left to use the shooting to taint all abortion foes, he and others on the right have pointed to the terrorist attacks in Paris to denounce President Obama’s plans to allow Syrian refugees to settle in the United States — despite the lack of evidence that any Syrians participated in those attacks.

In recent months, as right-wing candidates and officials have tried to make political gains off the discredited tapes, the National Abortion Federation, an association of service providers, has seen a rise in threats at clinics nationwide. In a statement to Media Matters, NARAL president Ilyse Hogue suggested that all the anti-choice rhetoric quoted recently in the media and on display at GOP presidential debates and appearances was fueling the violence.

She wrote: “Instead of treating these (attacks on clinics) as the real and present danger to innocent civilians that they are, Congress is inviting anti-abortion extremists to testify at hearings, the Department of Justice has yet to announce a full investigation, and the news media remains silent. Where is the outrage?”

Since September, there have been four attempted arsons at Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation, three of which have caused significant damage.

At least eight murders of doctors and workers at abortion clinics have occurred in the United States since 1990. Since 1977, there have been 41 bombings and 173 arsons at clinics.

In recent years, the Republican Party has made it a top legislative priority to whittle away at abortion rights in the U.S., with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision making it legal for a woman to determine whether to have a baby.

Wisconsin, where Republicans are in control of every facet of state government, including the Supreme Court, is at the vanguard of those efforts. Gov. Scott Walker recently appointed Rebecca Bradley, a strong opponent to choice, to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, even though her career as a judge began less than four years ago, when he first appointed her to the bench.

Wisconsin has adopted among the most stringent anti-choice laws in the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law, which does not benefit women’s health due to the extreme rarity of complications and the nearby availability of other hospitals to handle any such cases if they arose, was found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court panel.

The Wisconsin case centers on a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services. The groups argue that the 2013 law amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on abortion.

Only about 3 percent of services provided by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin involve ending pregnancies. The organization provides a variety of sexual health services for poor women, including PAP smears, STD and breast screenings, contraceptive services and prenatal care.

AP contributed to this report.

Response to the shooting from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America

To those who go to unimaginable extremes to close our doors:

We deplore your violence.

We reject your threats.

We fight your legislation to limit reproductive rights and health care in every corner of our country.

We believe your actions and words hurt women — whether by making it impossible to seek health care or by creating a climate of disrespect and hostility that fosters extremist violence.

We demand an end to the incendiary rhetoric from anti-abortion activists and lawmakers that demonizes Planned Parenthood doctors and patients. The smear campaign and false accusations that motivated the attack in Colorado Springs must stop.

We aren’t going anywhere. Planned Parenthood has been here for nearly 100 years, and we will keep being here as long as women, men, and young people need health care with dignity.

To those who go to shocking extremes to close our doors, know this:

These doors stay open.

Click here to contribute to Planned Parenthood

See also Gunman had been charged with animal cruelty, domestic abuse

Australia deports leader of radical anti-choice group that made controversial videos

The head of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue is boasting that his organization and the Center for Medical Progress are “taking down” Planned Parenthood on a $120,000 budget, the amount raised over three years for the undercover video operation that has set off a national debate over use of tissue from aborted fetuses in medical research.

Operation Rescue president Troy Newman — who also serves as secretary of the California-based center that released hidden-camera videos — cited the small cost of the videos during an interview with The Associated Press.

“We are one of the most effective pro-life organizations in the country on the smallest budget,” Newman said of Wichita-based Operation Rescue. “I mean, look what we did with the Center for Medical Progress. I mean, we are taking down Planned Parenthood on a $120,000 budget. There are organizations that spend that in one day.”

But his work is not so highly regarded in Australia, which detained and deported him when he showed up there to make a series of inflammatory anti-choice speeches.

Now he’s back in Wichita after being declared a threat to public order.

Newman says he potentially faces fines as high as $10,000 to $20,000 stemming from the proceedings in Australia, but had not yet been fined. Still, Operation Rescue seized on the opportunity to send out a fundraising email under the subject line “Operation Rescue crippled?” that sought to raise funds to pay such a fine. That email was the latest effort by the group to raise money in the wake of the release of the undercover videos. An earlier appeal sought to raise money to fight a lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation against Newman and others involved in the undercover operation.

Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the small amount of money abortion foes raised to produce the secret videos and Newman’s comment shows how out of touch they are with the American public.

“They raised $120,000 over three years because they don’t have the support of the American public to be doing what they are doing,” McQuade said.

Planned Parenthood has been fending off attacks since the release of the misleadingly edited and secretly recorded videos showing its officials talking about using tissue from abortions for medical researchers.

Planned Parenthood offers patients contraception, sexual disease testing, cancer screenings, prenatal health care and numerous other reproductive health services to women who could not otherwise afford them. Only about 3 percent of their clinics provide abortions, and even fewer provide tissue to researchers investigating new ways to fight diabetes, ALS, Alzheimer’s, AIDS and other diseases.

Such tissue led to development of a vaccine that prevents polio, virtually ending the scourge of the disease in the United States.

Still, the Republican-led U.S. House voted to create a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood and some GOP Senators have tried unsuccessfully to block federal funding for the group. That battle could resurface in mid-December, when the measure to keep the government functioning runs out. President Barack Obama has promised to veto legislation that cuts the group’s funding.

“Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere either in the region or across the United States,” McQuade said. “And just like we have emerged from other unfounded attacks … we will emerge stronger than ever.”

Threat to the community

Also going nowhere — or at least not going to Australia — is Newman. The battle to prevent Newman from coming to Australia for a speaking tour began, after a lawmaker sent a letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton saying Newman could pose a threat to community safety.

“I am most concerned that Mr. Newman’s call for abortionists to be executed could lead to threats or the commission of acts of violence against women and medical professionals,” wrote Terri Butler, a member of the opposition Labor Party.

Immigration officials then revoked Newman’s visa.

Newman, who co-authored a book that suggested doctors who perform abortions are committing a crime egregious enough to warrant the death penalty, denied that he posed a threat to anyone.

After he was detained, Newman appealed the government’s decision to Australia’s High Court in Melbourne. His lawyers argued their client had never incited violence and the revocation of his visa was therefore flawed.

High Court Justice Geoffrey Nettle disagreed, ruling that Newman posed a threat “to the good order of the Australian community.” The judge said Newman willfully disobeyed Australia’s immigration laws by boarding the flight to Melbourne.

“He does not come to this court with clean hands,” Nettle said.

Butler, the Labor lawmaker, said Australians are a welcoming people, but don’t take kindly to those who flout the law.

“To think he is above the law gives us an insight into the sort of person we are dealing with,” she told reporters after the court’s decision. “We don’t welcome extremists into our country and we don’t welcome extremism.”

Operation Rescue is the group that campaigned against Dr George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers. Newman reportedly urged his followers to stalk Tiller, circulating photos of him and his patients and of their license plate numbers.

That campaign resulted in Tiller’s murder. Six years ago, he was shot to death in church by Scott Roeder, an Operation Rescue member who claimed to have spoken with Newman about carrying out possible violent action.

GOPs’ attempt to end fetal tissue research would harm medical progress and Wisconsin economy

High in a laboratory overlooking Lake Mendota, University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist Gail Robertson is looking for the next breakthrough in medical science. If Republican lawmakers will let her, that is.

Robertson and her colleagues are working on research that could one day lead to treatments for irregular heartbeats. Their main tools, they say, are cells derived from aborted fetuses.

Republican legislators want to change that. Earlier this month they introduced a bill that would outlaw research on fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions performed after Jan. 1 of this year.

“We need to treat aborted children as humans, not specimens,” Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, one of the bill’s chief authors, told the Senate health committee last week.

But researchers like Robertson fear the door will be slammed on medical advances.

“We never know where the next paradigm shift is going to come, so we need all the tools we can get our hands on,” she said. “We need to unleash our efforts, our tools and our intelligence. That’s what drives progress.”

Research using fetal cell lines has been going on since the 1940s. The cell lines — samples of cells from fetal tissues that can reproduce themselves in labs, making them essentially immortal — are essential to research toward medical treatments, said Dr. Bob Golden, UW-Madison’s vice chancellor of medical affairs. The cells are pliable, haven’t formed hard-and-fast properties like adult cells and can replicate themselves quickly. Essentially, they’re a blank slate researchers use to test hypotheses, Golden said.

Under federal law, a woman who chooses to end a pregnancy can sign a form allowing her fetal tissue to be used for federally funded research. Abortion providers can recoup the expenses of storing and transporting the tissue, but selling it for profit is strictly illegal.

A sting operation by an anti-choice group over the summer created a controversy over fetal tissue provided to researchers by Planned Parenthood. In a grotesque video that was heavily edited, a representative of Planned Parenthood appeared to indicate the group made money off selling fetal tissue. But investigations of Planned Parenthood, conducted by Republicans in such right-wing states as Indiana and Missouri, have found the organization in full compliance with the law.

Still, right-wing evangelicals have seized on the incident to launch another in a series of attacks on  

Fetal cells played a role in developing the vaccine for polio in the 1950s, Golden said. In the 1990s, Robertson and her colleagues used fetal cells to help develop a screening protocol for new drugs to ensure they don’t damage the heart — a test the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires for every drug.

UW researchers use grant money to purchase fetal cells from tissue banks, including facilities at the University of Washington-Seattle, the University of Southern California and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Some 100 laboratory groups on campus use fetal cells in their work today, Golden said.

One project includes using cells from aborted fetuses to identify brain changes that cause Down syndrome and devise ways to block those changes. Other researchers are using fetal cells to create an Ebola vaccine, Golden said.

Robertson’s team is using fetal cells to better understand how electrical charges pass through cell membranes in hopes of creating a treatment for rhythmic disorders such as irregular heartbeats and epilepsy. In her lab, the cells grow in petri dishes the size of hockey pucks and are visible only through a microscope, where they look like branches of an unbelievably tiny tree.

Still, Republicans say it’s time for tighter restrictions to preserve aborted fetuses’ dignity. And some scientists do agree. Tara Sander Lee, a molecular researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said using fetal tissue for research is an unethical way to prevent suffering. Researchers can find other sources of cells, such as tissue from the living or umbilical cord blood, she said.

“We cannot support the exploitation of one group — the unborn — for another,” she told the Senate committee.

The bill would allow researchers to use fetal cell lines developed before Jan. 1 of this year. But Golden said researchers need new lines, too. The old lines lose their properties after replicating themselves for generations and there’s no telling what new lines scientists might need to develop to advance their work.

Golden warned that the push for the law could prompt researchers to leave the state. Robertson said she’s already interviewing at two other institutions.

The state’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, usually a staunch Republican, has come out against the measure. And it’s unclear whether the bill will come to the floor of either chamber after a number of Republicans in both houses have expressed concerns about the measure’s impact on research.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he hopes to bring some sort of compromise bill to a vote by late October but he hasn’t said what might change.

Any eventual law might also face a legal challenge. Federal courts in Arizona, Utah, Louisiana and Illinois have struck down similar laws, finding them to be unconstitutionally vague.

Wisconsin Republicans modify ban on fetal tissue so that medical research can continue

Republicans working on a bill that would prohibit the use of tissue from aborted embryos or fetuses for medical research announced Sept. 4 that they’re amending the measure to allow some scientific work.

The original bill would outlaw selling, donating and experimenting with cells, tissues, organs or other components from fetuses. Violators would be charged with a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and $50,000 in fines. The bill’s authors, Reps. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, and Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said they’ve tweaked the law to permit research on tissue from fetuses aborted before Jan. 1, 2015.

The two lawmakers said in a news release the move would allow research to continue on widely used cell lines from the 1960s and 1970s and assuage scientists’ concerns that the bill would end their work.

“I think this is a fair approach — one, I think, we all can live with,” Kleefisch said in a press release.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as scientists in the private sector have argued that the bill could jeopardize ongoing research into cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, while also putting millions of dollars in research funding and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

A UW-Madison spokesman had no immediate comment on the amendment.

Although Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin doesn’t offer tissue donation services, Jacque has said he wants to make sure it never can. More than 50 Republican legislators so far have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Kleefisch chairs the Assembly’s criminal justice committee and has scheduled a vote on the bill for Sept. 9. There have been signs of a lack of support in the Senate, however. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, has said she opposed the original bill because it would halt ongoing research at UW-Madison and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, hasn’t said when or whether the bill will come up.

A spokesman for Darling didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Neither did Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman.

Gov. Scott Walker, whose campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination keeps him mostly out of state, hasn’t committed to supporting the measure. His gubernatorial spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Bill banning use of aborted fetal tissue gets hearing in Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers oppose a bill that would ban the use of aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin.

Federal law already bans the sale of fetal tissue, but donation is allowed. The bill was scheduled for an Assembly committee hearing on Aug. 11 would ban the use of aborted fetal tissue in experiments.

The lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Andre Jacque, says he’s changed the proposal from an earlier version which also banned research using cells derived from fetal tissue.

UW School of Medicine and Public Health officials say about 100 labs on campus use cells derived from fetal tissue for research on cancer, heart disease and other conditions. The Wisconsin State Journal says about six to eight labs use fetal tissue in studies on diabetes and other conditions.