Senate votes to criminalize fetal tissue, organ sales

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Senate on Wednesday approved a pair of bills that would make it a crime to sell fetal tissues and organs from an elective abortion.

The distribution and transfer of any portion of an embryo or fetus for the purposes of selling organs, tissues and cells would become a felony punishable by up to five years in prison under Senate Bills 564 and 565.

Republicans in the Senate’s majority party pursued the bills in response to viral internet videos of abortion opponents purporting to show abortion clinics attempting to sell the remains of aborted fetuses. In one legal battle in Texas over the videos, abortion provider Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrong doing.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, who sponsored both bills, said the legislation would “send a clear message that baby parts are not for sale in Michigan.”

“I think it’s time for Michigan to stand for the voices of the unborn and give them the protection they need,” said Pavlov, a St. Clair County Republican who is running this year for Congress.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 26-10 in favor of legislation, as Democrats contended the bills would be an impediment to medical research.

“This is a classic example of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and instead making things worse,” said state Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village.

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, said the bill’s author makes “the fraudulent assumption that the law is currently silent on this issue.”

“Profiting off of the sale of fetal tissue is already illegal,” Bieda said. “There’s no reason for this legislation other than for pure politics.”

Proponents disagreed. “The fact of the matter is embryonic life is life and should be protected,” said Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan CEO Lori Carpentier, who heads the group’s political arm, said the state legislation is redundant because federal penalties already exist against such sales of fetal tissue and organs.

“It also has the distinct possibility of causing problems for bona fide universities that do research,” Carpentier said. “...These legislators are not looking to do good policy. They are looking to score political points.”

Senate Bill 565 would amend the state’s penal code to make it a class E felony for selling or distributing fetal tissue parts with the intent to make a profit, according to the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

A Right to Life of Michigan spokeswoman said the legislation addresses a loophole in federal law that allows fetal tissue donors to charge a procurement fee of any amount. The state legislation allows women to donate aborted fetal tissue but not for a fee, said Genevieve Marnon, public affairs associate for Right to Life of Michigan.

“We’re simply codifying the policy that Planned Parenthood said it adopted” in October 2015, Marnon said.

Six months ago, national Planned Parenthood said it would no longer accept reimbursement of its costs for donating tissue for medical research.

“If it is truly about donated tissue, what is there to fear?” Marnon said. “Researchers should be happy that they no longer have to pay a procurement fee.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood