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Fetal tissue company says confidential info is being sought

WASHINGTON – StemExpress, a California company that prepares human fetal tissue for research analysis, said Monday that a U.S. House panel is seeking confidential client information and the names of scientists and researchers as part of its round of subpoenas that is also targeting the University of New Mexico and an Albuquerque abortion services provider.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chairwoman of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, said Thursday that she planned to subpoena StemExpress, UNM and Southwestern Women’s Options for noncompliance with the panel’s investigation.

Southwest Women’s Options trained UNM medical students in providing abortion procedures, but the medical school canceled that arrangement late last year. The late-term abortion provider also provides fetal tissue from the center’s abortion procedures to the UNM Health Sciences Center for medical research.

StemExpress, based in Placerville, Calif., was targeted as part of a controversial, undercover investigation into the alleged harvesting and sale of fetal parts last year by the Center for Medical Progress, which triggered the U.S. House inquiry. A StemExpress statement issued Monday said it has aimed to comply with the U.S. House panel’s request, but that the panel seeks confidential client information.

“Throughout this process, StemExpress has continued to protect its clients’ confidentiality, and to abide by its legal obligations,” the StemExpress statement said. “The Select Investigative Panel now seeks confidential client information and the identity of individual scientists and researchers through the issuance of a subpoena.”

Blackburn’s spokesman in Washington, Mike Reynard, did not respond to a request for a response to the StemExpress statement Monday, which was a federal holiday. The StemExpress statement also defended its work as integral to finding cures for diseases.

“StemExpress supports academic hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and medical research institutions throughout the United States – in every region of the country,” the statement said. “There are numerous medical journals that reference how Stem-Express supports scientific research that develops cures and prevents disease by providing quality stem cells, blood and tissue that are critical to advancing cures.

“Americans are seeking cures for diseases and StemExpress is working to make that happen,” the statement said.

Jessica R. Hertz, counsel for Southwestern Women’s Options, told the Journal her client has already provided materials to the House panel.

“Southwestern Women’s Options turned over materials on Friday to the congressional panel, as previously arranged,” Hertz said in a statement Monday. “We have been and will continue to be cooperative to the panel’s inquiries. Our goal is to meet the panel’s interests while also protecting individuals’ safety and privacy.”

Billy Sparks, a spokesman for the branch of UNM that oversees the hospital and medical school, told the Journal on Friday that UNM staff was gathering information requested by the panel and that the deadline given for a response was today. “We are disappointed that the majority would issue a precipitous press release prior to the Feb. 16 deadline stating that we are not cooperating and are unwilling to submit the documents requested,” he said Friday.

Sparks confirmed Monday that UNM would submit documents today, the “agreed-upon” deadline.

Under federal law, abortion providers can’t sell fetal tissue, but they can transfer it for purposes of medical research. Abortion providers are permitted to recover the cost of processing and shipping the tissue, although those costs are not specified or capped in law. In a statement Thursday night, Blackburn said the documentation requested by the House panel is essential to its inquiry.

“Without these subpoenas, the American people and the House itself would be left to speculate about what is going on in the fetal tissue industry,” Blackburn said. “We cannot leave questions unanswered,” Blackburn said in her Thursday statement.

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