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Editorial: Fetal tissue inquiry within purview of House panel

It’s not unusual for members of Congress to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, unethical business practices and pretty much anything else related to the health and welfare of U.S. citizens and the nation’s security.

It’s part of their job. And, yes, their investigatory powers can be abused, as they were by Sen. Joe McCarthy during the communism scare of the 1950s.

While some members have been accused of crossing the line, the actual subject of the inquiry by the U.S. House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives into the financing around the production of fetal tissue is legitimate.

Abortion is legal in the United States, with limitations in some states other than New Mexico.

It is also legal for fetal tissue to be transferred for use in legitimate medical research. It is also legal for abortion providers to recoup processing and shipping fees, although there is no specific price or a cap on how much they can charge. But under federal law it is illegal for fetal tissue to be trafficked or sold for profit.

The interest in the financial aspects of the fetal tissue trade was sparked last year after secret videos were released by anti-abortion groups that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue from abortion clinics to researchers.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, which has done fetal tissue research, and Southwestern Women’s Options, an Albuquerque abortion provider that does late-term abortions and that has provided fetal specimens for research, have been drawn into the national debate.

The House panel has subpoenaed documents from both organizations. Names and other identifying information were redacted from the documents for safety reasons, according to the Health Sciences Center and Southwestern Women’s Health. But we live in an open society governed by laws. Certainly there is reason for concern and there has been violence directed at abortion providers. But if the logic used by Health Sciences was followed, many identities would be withheld from the public. For example, the public would never know the name of a police officer involved in a shooting because a case for officer safety could be made. But cops can’t expect that kind of anonymity and neither should people who sign up and get paid for doing this kind of research.

The Health Sciences Center denies that it has bought or sold fetal tissue or reimbursed Southwestern Women’s Options for tissue it provided from women who had an abortion and agreed to donate it.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who chairs the House panel, said documents show companies’ websites offering various body parts from babies, available by the gestation period of the pregnancy at the time of the abortion. She said the business has been growing in recent years.

“When questions are being raised about the possibility that a federal statute has been violated, Congress has a duty to the taxpayers to find the facts and get to the bottom of what is actually going on,” Blackburn said.

She is right. It should. That is made more difficult when individuals’ names are redacted. Looking for the truth is what Congress should be doing.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.