by Shannon Argueta
Republicans in the House of Representatives continued their assault on science and health care on Wednesday with a vote to hold a company that provides researchers with fetal tissue in contempt of court. Democrats objected to the vote and walked out in protest, saying they would not be apart of the "witch-hunt."
The contempt vote came after a House committee, led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn), accused StemExpress of not cooperating with an investigation into whether or not the company has been profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The GOP claims that the California-based company has refused to hand over financial documents and employee names to the committee within a timely manner.
“The panel is entitled to this information so we can answer the question. … Did companies improperly profit?” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “A subpoena is not a suggestion. It is a lawful order, and a subpoena is to be complied with.”
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) suggested that StemExpress' alleged failure to provide their account information proves,"There is obviously something that is being hidden here." The company's executives, however, issued a statement disputing claims that they are not being forthright with Congress:
“This is a disappointing outcome after spending over a year providing accounting documents and offering to testify — an offer they never took us up on. The claim that we did not provide bank records is simply not true. StemExpress continues to be devoted to the acceleration of cures and prevention of serious medical conditions.”
When Republicans on the committee voted to hold the company in contempt, Democrats walked out of the meeting in protest. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called the proceedings a "kangaroo court" and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said,"This whole process is illegitimate, and we are not willing to participate in it."
To understand why Democrats are so upset, we must first understand why the "investigation" is taking place to begin with. House Republicans only began looking into StemExpress after doctored videos made by religious zealots at The Center For Medical Progress claimed to show Planned Parenthood employees negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. After numerous investigations, the women's health organization was cleared of any wrongdoing, so the House committee then set its sights on StemExpress, hoping to destroy them.
If the Republican Party were to succeed in intimidating the biotech company, crucial research into a multitude of diseases would be halted. According to LiveScience, fetal tissue is currently being used to find a cure or treatment for Alzheimer's disease, ALS and the Zika Virus. It is also being used to figure out how to regenerate organs and heal spinal cord injuries. Finally, without fetal tissue research we would not have vaccinations for hepatitis A, polio, rabies, chickenpox or rubella.
The Republican Party has been waging a war on science and health care for years, but this is one of their most blatant attempts to cripple stem cell research since George W. Bush's first presidential veto. The party claims to be "pro-life" but if that were true, they would do everything they could to ensure that scientists have every resource available to them to cure and treat disease. Instead, they have chosen to attack one of the few companies that actively seeks to benefit society and they have done so knowing that their entire "investigation" is based on fake videos.
The committee will now have to bring the contempt charges in front of the whole House. If Congress votes to go ahead, the case will be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Either way, a round of applause for the House Democrats who held their nerve and stood up to Republican bullying.