Judicial Watch Sues HHS for Failure to Respond to FOIA Request About Government-Funded Fetal Organ ‘Chop Shop’

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
January 25, 2023US News
Judicial Watch Sues HHS for Failure to Respond to FOIA Request About Government-Funded Fetal Organ ‘Chop Shop’
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) building in Washington on July 22, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)

Judicial Watch announced on Jan. 10 that it recently filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for communication records involving the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the use of human fetal tissue.

The government watchdog group filed the lawsuit (pdf) on Oct. 7, 2022, because HHS had failed to respond to their July 15, 2022, FOIA request to the NIH for “all communications concerning human fetal tissue” between NIH’s Office of Extramural Research and four other entities—the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood.

“We have already established collusion between the University of Pittsburgh and the NIH over the fetal organ ‘chop shop’ in the University of Pittsburgh paid for with federal tax dollars,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton explained in the Jan. 10 press release. “The Biden administration turned the spigot back on for taxpayer funding of this barbarism, and we want the details.”

Background on Current FOIA Lawsuit

On April 16, 2021, NIH released a statement announcing that it was rolling back a 2019 Trump administration restriction on the use of “human fetal tissue” from elective abortions.

In a notice to researchers at the time, NIH explained that these regulations included the creation of an HHS ethics advisory board that would meet annually “to review and approve any research involving human fetal tissue before the NIH could award funding.”

Under the 2019 regulations, any research proposal involving human fetal tissue that was submitted on or after Sept. 25, 2019, would be subjected to the ethics board’s review and approval.

The Biden administration’s 2021 policy change effectively dissolved that ethics advisory board.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said at the time of the rollback, “We believe that we have to do the research that it takes to make sure that we’re incorporating innovation and getting all of those types of treatments and therapies out there to the American people,” The Hill reported.

According to Judicial Watch, documents (pdf) obtained in August 2021 as part of an earlier lawsuit (pdf) filed on March 10, 2021, against HHS revealed that the University of Pittsburgh had received nearly $3 million in federal funds toward the university’s creation of a “tissue hub and collection site” for human fetal tissue “ranging from 6 to 42 weeks gestation.”

Judicial Watch had filed the March 2021 FOIA lawsuit because HHS had failed to respond to an April 2020 FOIA request, which sought information about a University of Pittsburgh’s “tissue hub” project grant application that was approved in June 2019.

The information obtained as a result of the March 2021 FOIA lawsuit prompted Judicial Watch to submit the subsequent July 2022 FOIA request to the NIH.

Exposing Government-Funded Projects Using Human Fetal Tissue

In recent years, Judicial Watch has helped to uncover several gruesome government-funded projects through litigation.

In 2020, Judicial Watch found that between December 2016 and August 2018, the NIH had paid “thousands of dollars” to the California-based Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) for organs acquired from aborted human fetuses. The tissue was intended for the creation of “humanized mice” for HIV research.

And in September 2021, Judicial Watch announced that through a FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “communications and contracts” surfaced between the FDA and ABR to provide “fetal heads, organs and tissue” for humanized mice research.

After Judicial Watch successfully opposed the FDA’s “redaction of certain information from its records,” a federal court ordered HHS to release additional information about its purchases of organs harvested from aborted human fetuses, including the “price per organ” that the government had paid to the human fetal tissue provider ABR.

The court also found that there was “reason to question” whether the transactions violated then-current federal law banning the sale of fetal tissue.

Within the documents that were released during the course of the lawsuit was a 2012 contract (pdf) between the FDA and ABR, where the FDA described ABR as “the only company in the U.S. capable of supplying tissues suitable for [Human Mice] research. No other company is capable of fulfilling the need.”

The FDA told the Daily Caller News Foundation at the time that it “has not entered into any contracts ‘for the purchase of human fetal tissue’ since 2018,” adding that prior research involving that kind of tissue only “accounted for a very small fraction of the FDA’s total research.”

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