Communications Department

Senate Narrowly Rejects Scrutiny of Baby Body Parts Industry, But House Adopts NRLC-Backed Call for Hearings Next Year

Nov 30, 1999 | babyparts

Congress has begun to take notice of the growing controversy over trafficking in baby body parts.

In late October, during Senate consideration of the Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Act, pro-life Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) offered an amendment to require detailed reporting on transactions involving the body parts of babies killed by abortion. The amendment failed on a close vote, 46-51. The roll call on the Smith Amendment appears on page 13.

Two weeks later, the House of Repre-sentatives adopted an NRLC- backed resolution (H. Res. 350), sponsored by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Co.), calling for Congress to hold hearings next year “and take appropriate steps if necessary, concerning private companies that are involved in the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.”

(See NRLC’s letter on this page.)

Senator Smith told the Senate that he drafted his amendment after reviewing leaked documents and other materials regarding firms that collect and sell fetal tissue and organs to medical researchers. (For a fuller report on these matters, please see the article “A New Growth Industry in Baby Body Parts,” by Susan Wills, on page 8 of this issue.)

On October 20 and 21, Smith gave two lengthy floor speeches regarding his amendment, detailing allegations of trafficking in baby body parts by firms such as Opening Lines and the Anatomical Gift Foundation.

During these discourses, Smith displayed various order forms that were reportedly leaked by a former employee of the Anatomical Gift Foundation. He also displayed a poster-size reproduction of the current price list for baby body parts allegedly published by Opening Lines, which includes such entries as “Brain (>8 weeks) $150,” “Skin (>12 weeks) $150,” “Gonads $550,” and “Intact Trunk (with/without limbs) $550.”

“I want to try to paint you a picture of what happens,” Smith said. “A girl walks into a clinic and sits down to wait. A fax comes in, and the fax contains a list of what body parts are needed for that day. . . . He [the abortionist] looks out into the waiting room and stares at her stomach, and knows this [tissue order] is [for] the very same child who is very much alive now, perhaps even moving and kicking. He knows that child will be dead in a few moments, and they already have the work order. . . . After her abortion, in a matter of 10 minutes . . . that baby can be shipped to researchers across the country – – just like going into a supermarket and buying a piece of meat.”

Smith’s amendment would have required persons who receive fetal tissue to file reports with the Department of Health and Human Services, specifying the gestational age of the fetus, the abortion method used, the fees paid to the abortion clinic, and other information.

The amendment also would have limited the amount of “site fees” paid by tissue vendors to abortion clinics to amounts “reasonable in terms of reimbursement for the actual real estate of facilities used.” There have been indications that vendors pay inflated “site fees” in order to circumvent a federal law that theoretically prohibits profiteering on human tissue.

Smith’s amendment explicitly excluded information that might identify an abortionist or a woman procuring an abortion. However, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) opposed the amendment, arguing that it would allow people to learn the names of clinics at which fetal tissue is being collected, “which I fear could escalate violence at health care clinics all over this country.”

No other senator responded directly to Smith’s speeches, but the amendment failed narrowly, 46-51. Smith vowed that he would continue to pursue the issue during the congressional session that begins in January.

House Approves Hearings

In the House, several key pro-life lawmakers decided that a fuller investigation of the facts would be advisable before proposing remedial legislation. On November 2, Congress-man Tancredo introduced a resolution urging hearings on the issue, with the backing of Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who chairs a conservative alliance known as the Values Action Team, and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the co-chairman of the House Pro- Life Caucus.

The 1999 congressional session was already in its closing days, and ordinarily there would not have been time for the resolution to reach the floor before adjournment. But with the authorization of pro-life Congressman Tom Bliley (R-Va.) – – who is chairman of the powerful House Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue– the House Republican leadership brought the resolution to the floor on November 9 under a special fast-track procedure called “suspension of the rules.”

Because of the “fast track” procedure under which the bill was considered, debate was limited to 40 minutes. The floor time in support of the resolution was managed by pro-life Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY), a member of the Commerce Committee. Also speaking in support of the resolution were Reps. Tancredo, Pitts, Smith, and Tom Coburn (R-Ok.).

Rep. Tancredo compared the recently reported practices of baby body parts vendors to “the gro-tesque deeds carried out in Communist China, where buyers can place orders for specific organs from bodies of certain blood types. Prisoners matching the specifications are then slaughtered and their organs harvested and sold.”

Pro-life lawmakers said that one of the issues that should be investigated is whether abortionists are altering the timing or method of abortions in order to obtain baby body parts of the desired stage of development and condition. “We’re inducing, through the profit motive, abortionists to put the life of their patients at risk for monetary gain,” said Rep. Coburn, who is a physician.

Opposition to the resolution was led by Rep. Diana DeGette (D- Co.), who lamented “the use of inflammatory and imprecise language” such as “baby body parts.”

“Fetal tissue research has already resulted in significant advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and even in more potential advances for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and many other serious medical conditions,” she asserted.

“We have other options than buying and selling dead children’s body parts for research,” said Rep. Pitts. “Don’t believe the lie that medical progress hinges on this cruel commerce. The issue we focus on today is not research, but the buying and selling of baby body parts for profit.”

Pro-abortion Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said that sponsors “are attempting to corrupt medical research with the politics of abortion.” Others expressing opposition to the resolution were Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Henry Waxman (D-Ca.).

Because of the fast-track procedure under which the resolution was being considered, it would have been defeated if it had been opposed by just one-third-plus-one of the House. But opponents, apparently fearing that they would fail to muster even that level of opposition, did not demand a roll call, so the resolution was approved on a voice vote. No Senate action is required.

In a letter to the House urging approval of the resolution, Gail Quinn, executive director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, referred to “recent disturbing reports, presenting credible evidence that private companies are working directly with the abortion industry in the trafficking and sale of fetal body parts, often harvested moments after an abortion to obtain ‘fresh’ tissue for researchers. This raises a serious question: Are abortion procedures being tailored to obtain the most useful tissue or parts, regardless of federal legal standards or the safety of the mother?”


NRLC Letter to U.S. House Asks for Hearings on Baby Parts Trafficking

As explained in the story that appears on this page 12, on November 9, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for Congress to “conduct hearings, and take appropriate steps if necessary, concerning private companies that are involved in the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.”

The resolution, sponsored by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Co.), was actively backed by NRLC. Shown below is the text of a letter faxed to House offices by NRLC on November 8, urging support for the measure.

Although several pro-abortion House members (led by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Co.) spoke against the resolution, it was adopted on a voice vote. No Senate action is required.


November 8, 1999

Dear Member of Congress:

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) urges you to support H. Res. 350, authored by Congressman Tancredo, when it comes before the House tomorrow (Nov. 9) on the suspension calendar. The resolution expresses the sense of the House that Congress should hold hearings regarding “the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.”

A number of respected publications have recently published troubling articles based on documents that have leaked out of the baby body parts industry, and interviews with officials of firms that collect and sell baby body parts. We would in particular direct your attention to “The Harvest of Abortion” by Lynn Vincent, the cover story for the October 23 edition of World, a highly regarded evangelical newsweekly. (See

We would hope that H. Res. 350 will receive overwhelming support, since a vote against this modest resolution is in effect a vote to endorse the unsavory status quo. A vote in favor of the resolution, however, does not prejudge what changes in law may be warranted in this area, since the resolution merely urges that Congress hold hearings “and take appropriate steps if necessary, concerning private companies that are involved in the trafficking of baby body parts for profit.”


Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director

Susan Muskett, J.D.
Policy Analyst


X Vote for the Smith Amendment (pro-life)

O Vote against the Smith Amendment (pro-abortion)

? Absent or not voting

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Campbell, B. (R) X
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Kerry, J. (D) O

Levin, C. (D) O
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