It is illegal in the U.S. to sell body parts. So the release of undercover videos last summer purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating fees for tissue from aborted fetuses launched a flurry of federal and state investigations into the healthcare provider. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was the fourth congressional entry into this overcrowded field, but its mandate is far broader than just looking into Planned Parenthood — it can investigate the entities that procure fetal tissue and look into federal funding and support for abortion providers. It is also authorized to scrutinize the providers of second- and third-term abortions (even though later-term abortions are already highly regulated).
Legally donated fetal tissue has played a significant role in cutting-edge research, including Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury and kidney failure. The purpose of the panel was not to weigh in on the ethics of abortion but to investigate allegations of illegal practices. So far, all the governmental inquiries that preceded this panel’s — by 12 state agencies, three congressional committees, and a grand jury in Texas — have found no evidence that Planned Parenthood was profiting from fetal tissue. This panel’s work, so far, looks only like grandstanding.