Email records shed light on how FDA spent thousands on 'fresh' aborted baby parts

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FDA Building 21 stands behind the sign at the campus's main entrance and houses the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The FDA campus is located in Silver Spring, Maryland. |

E-mails obtained by a conservative government watchdog group shed more light on how the federal government spent thousands on fetal tissue derived from aborted babies for several years to create “humanized mice."

The conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch announced that it obtained 575 pages of email records displaying the dialogue between the Food and Drug Administration and the California-based Advanced Bioscience Resources related to fetal tissue procurement. The agency sought to test “biologic drug products.” 

Several of the e-mails document exchanges between ABR’s Perrin Larton and FDA official Dr. Kristina Howard. The FDA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“These fetal organ trafficking documents shock the conscience and show potentially illegal use of tax dollars to purchase organs of the unborn killed through abortion,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. 

According to federal law, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.” Those who violate this federal law can face a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years.

In the first email, dated Jan. 11, 2011, Howard sent an e-mail to Advanced Bioscience Resources discussing her training to make “humanized mice” and explaining that she needed “to obtain fetal liver and thymic tissues.” 

Howard repeatedly requested tissue from Larton in subsequent e-mails. In a Feb. 10, 2012 e-mail, Howard requested “thymus and liver, at least 18 weeks gestation.”

An application for the acquisition of human fetal tissue for research, which Howard included as an attachment in a Sep. 27, 2012 e-mail to Larton, requested $12,000 worth of fetal liver and thymus specimens for fetuses between the ages of 16 and 24 weeks gestation, with deliveries taking place twice monthly beginning in October 2012. Howard indicated a preference for fetal tissue that was “fresh” and “shipped on wet ice.”

The e-mails are part of a 2019 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit Judicial Watch filed against the HHS. The organization sought “all contracts and related documentation between FDA and Advanced Biosciences Resources (ABR) for the provision of human fetal tissue to be used in humanized mice research” as well as “all records reflecting the disbursement of funds to the ABR for the provision of human fetal tissue to be used in humanized mice research.”

Additionally, the advocacy group sought “all guidelines and procedural documents provided to ABR by FDA relating to the acquisition and extraction of human fetal tissue for its provision to the FDA for humanized mice research” and “all communications between FDA officials and employees and representatives of ABR related to the provision by ABR to the FDA of human fetal tissue for the purpose of humanized mice research.” The lawsuit came after “HHS failed to respond adequately to a September 28, 2018 request” for the records.

Even before the most recent contract between the FDA and ABR was signed in July 2018, previous records obtained by Judicial Watch as part of its lawsuit found the FDA “entered into eight contracts worth $96,370” with ABR between 2012 and 2018. The contracts were to acquire “fresh and never frozen” fetal tissue for implantation into humanized mice. 

The existence of the most recent contract between the FDA and ABR first became public in the summer of 2018.

As a group of Republican members of Congress noted in a September 2018 letter to then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the FDA paid $15,900 to ABR to acquire “fresh human fetal tissue” for “ongoing research led by the FDA.” 

According to the lawmakers, “ABR plainly admitted to Congress that it obtained tissue by collecting human fetal remains from abortion clinics, paying $60 per ‘single aborted fetus’ — and then upselling the child’s body parts separately to researchers at fees of $325 per specimen — brain, eyes, liver, thymus and lungs.”

“In light of the serious unresolved questions uncovered by the investigative work of both the House and Senate panels, we are alarmed that the FDA has continued to award contracts to ABR for the procurement of human fetal tissue,” they added. “Unborn children are not commodities to be bought and sold.”

“The practice of conducting research using the body parts of children whose lives have been violently ended by abortion is abhorrent,” the lawmakers’ letter added. “We urge you to cancel this contract immediately and utilize alternative, modern scientific techniques that do not contribute to the trafficking in baby body parts.”

Following outrage from the members of Congress and others in the pro-life community, the Trump administration terminated the contract a week after the letter was sent. 

In early 2020, the Trump administration assembled the National Institutes of Health Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, which was “tasked with researching the use of aborted baby body parts in scientific research and determining whether it is ethical.”

This month, the NIH disbanded the independent advisory board established under the Trump administration. 

The FDA was not the only government agency to do business with ABR.

Previous records obtained by Judicial Watch found that the National Institutes of Health paid ABR more than $18,000 for livers and thymuses from second-trimester aborted fetuses between December 2016 and August 2018.

The investigations into ABR stem from the fallout over the release of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials callously discussing the sale of aborted babies’ body parts, which led to several states defunding the abortion provider. 

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