Spreading Hatred Against Abortion Providers Once Again
The Anti-Choice Exploitation of Fetal Tissue Research
by Joyce Arthur
published in Pro-Choice Press, Winter 99/00
The anti-abortion movement has been stirring up controversy over the alleged sale-for-profit of aborted fetus tissue for research, and even the purported killings of late-term fetuses just to sell their organs. Articles and editorials reporting such tales have appeared in several mainstream newspapers across Canada, often pointing fingers of implied blame at abortion providers. Since there is no evidence whatsoever linking clinics or doctors with such activities, we believe that the goal of this manufactured "scandal" is to provoke hatred and harassment of abortion providers.
First, a caveat - the relative ethics of using fetal tissue for research is a separate question from that of abortion. Whether or not aborted fetus tissue is later donated and used for research is in no way related to the provision of safe, legal abortion, which is the primary commitment of the abortion services community. So, officially, we have no position on the issue of fetal tissue research.
However, many reasonable people in our society support this research, because they feel it has significant potential to save lives and alleviate suffering. It is also perfectly legal within certain guidelines. Currently, transplants of fetal tissue are used to treat various medical conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, leukemia, blindness, and others. Also, women who choose to donate their fetuses for research often derive a sense of comfort and peace knowing that their decision may help others. But because of its hardline position against abortion, the anti-choice community is against any use of fetal tissue, regardless of the possible benefits to humanity.
Where do these allegations of "baby parts for sale" come from? Without exception, the lurid stories being spread by the mainstream media are based on a single source: an August 30, 1999 article in the right-wing Alberta Report magazine. The Alberta Report in turn got its information almost entirely from Life Dynamics Inc. (LDI) of Texas, an extremist anti-abortion organization that specializes in using deceit and harassment to discredit and vilify abortion providers. It is chilling to think that mainstream media would present without question information from a group as sinister as Life Dynamics.
So who is Life Dynamics and what do they do? Mark Crutcher is LDI's executive director, and his goal is to make abortion all but unavailable, whether legal or not. Crutcher is a known associate of anti-abortion leaders who advocate the murder of abortion providers. In 1995 in Kansas, Crutcher gave a seminar at the national conference of the American Coalition of Life Activists, attended by many dangerous pro-violence advocates. Paul DeParrie, a supporter of both LDI and the "justifiable homicide" of abortion doctors, once said approvingly of Life Dynamics: "Probably the single most consuming passion at LDI it to make it a legal hell for abortionists and abortion clinics."
A few examples of LDI tactics include persuading women to sue abortion doctors for malpractice, infiltrating clinics with their "Spies for Life" to gather information, collecting personal data on doctors by surreptitious means, and publishing scurrilous rumours and tasteless jokes about abortion providers. LDI's tactics have been seen increasingly in Canada over this decade, particularly the clandestine collection of information on Canadian physicians. Many in the pro-choice movement fear that this data has been passed on to pro-violence militants, and posted on the Internet. Given that three doctors in Canada have been shot in the last five years by an anti-abortion radical, LDI's tactics amount to intimidating and threatening behaviour.
But let's return to LDI's allegations of "baby parts for sale," as well as their suggestion that abortion providers are akin to Nazis by trafficking in fetal remains at huge profits. Is there any substance to these claims? Profiting from the use of fetal tissue is illegal and unethical. A few clinics and hospitals across North America do donate fetal tissue to research institutions like universities, but no money changes hands, except sometimes a nominal handling fee to cover costs.
In the U.S., the use of fetal tissue is regulated by law to prevent abuse. For example, women who donate their aborted fetuses for research are required to give their free and informed consent, and must not be asked to donate until after they have already decided to have an abortion. Fears that women are being coerced into abortions solely to obtain fetal tissue are irrational and unfounded.
In Canada, no laws exist at present on the handling and use of fetal tissue (a law is currently on the drawing board), but strict ethical guidelines are enforced by several independent research councils. Research funding is provided only to individuals and institutions that certify compliance with the guidelines. These cover much the same ground as the U.S. laws, including the requirement for informed consent from women without interfering with their abortion decision, and the obtainment of tissue through non-commercial means.
The only allegation currently under investigation by a U.S. Congressional committee is that two biomedical companies, acting as third parties in the collection of fetal tissue, are charging inflated handling fees to research institutions - more than what is needed to cover costs. Let there be no doubt as to the unanimous pro-choice position on this - if any type of illegal activity is happening - and nothing has been proved as yet - let's root it out and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.
As for the vicious gossip about doctors killing babies to "harvest" their organs, such hearsay is more suited to publication in the Weekly World News. These rumours originate from a single, anonymous source - "Kelly," who claims to be a former worker at an organ donation company in Maryland. The scenes she describes constitute criminal behaviour, and a gross violation of medical ethics. If her claims are true, why is she hiding behind a pseudonym, instead of helping bring the perpetrators to justice? Why did she go to Life Dynamics with her "evidence", instead of the police? These stories and their source are simply not credible, and abortion providers are outraged by even the suggestion of such barbaric practices.
If anyone in the anti-abortion movement knows of criminal activities involving fetal tissue in Canada or anywhere else, we urge them to report the evidence to the appropriate authorities immediately. But we doubt this will happen. Instead, we suspect that the anti-choice movement's motive in spreading these stories - unencumbered by facts or evidence - is to incite hatred against abortion providers. Unfortunately, by publishing articles that rely entirely on an unprincipled lunatic fringe as a source, the mainstream media actually help condone and encourage harassment and violence against abortion providers.