Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services announced it is joining with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Magee-Womens Hospital (Magee) to showcase efforts by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to improve maternal health services. In doing so, the governor is ignoring serious ethical and legal questions regarding the state’s largest hospital abortion provider’s role in fetal experimentation.
I left UPMC in April after reading about a taxpayer-funded study published last year in which the scalps of second-trimester babies obtained through elective and medically indicated abortions at Magee were attached to mice and rats by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt).
Prior to my departure, I submitted a report to the UPMC Compliance Helpline regarding Dr. Beatrice Chen, who oversees abortions at Magee and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania (PPWP) while also serving as a vice chair on Pitt’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) that approves fetal experimentation projects. Chen’s three leadership positions beg the question of whether PPWP refers pregnant women to Magee to meet fetal tissue demands.
Before Chen held her current positions, Dr. Mitchell Creinin served in similar roles. According to archived IRB membership lists from 2009, Creinin was an alternative member during the time he was both the director of Magee’s Center for Family Planning Research and the medical director at PPWP.
Concerns That Need Further Investigation
Creinin displayed unethical behavior during his time at the hospital, according to a warning letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Government officials found “objectionable conditions” during a 2002 Food and Drug Administration inspection that included failure to meet the requirements for obtaining and documenting the informed consent of participants during the study of a contraceptive device.
Magee representatives have been unwilling to publicly discuss the process for obtaining consent from pregnant women who donate fetal tissue. This has led to concerns about how much information women who agree to donate are given when they sign over their babies for research.
Concerns about the abortion procedures at Magee were heightened following the August release of a 2015 grant application sent from the University of Pittsburgh to the National Institutes of Health. The application boasted about Pitt’s ability to keep to a minimum the time between collection of the fetal tissue and cooling it for storage to ensure “the highest quality biological specimens.” The proposal also discussed racial targets in which the university’s goal was to have 50 percent of aborted babies representing non-white groups.
Although he no longer works at Magee, Creinin responded to an email from a Fox News reporter in August asking if fetuses have been aborted alive at Magee for Pitt’s experiments. The doctor raised eyebrows while defending a comment made by David Seldin, a former NARAL Pro-Choice America communications director and the current assistant vice chancellor for communications at Pitt.
Creinin wrote that Seldin did not imply in a statement by the university that fetuses were “alive” during tissue collection, placing the word alive in quotes. His answer does not instill confidence that babies are completely devoid of life following the abortion procedures.
Congress Requesting Information
In response to the university’s 2015 grant application, 92 Senate and House members sent a letter to the Biden administration in September that requested detailed information about Pitt’s fetal tissue practices. Feeling the pressure from lawmakers, the university hired a law firm to conduct what it described as an “independent review” of the fetal tissue research practices. The university’s leadership has been hesitant to make a commitment to publicly release the findings despite their own trustee stating the law firm’s full report “will be made available upon completion.”
The day after the requested deadline in the congressional letter, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro selected Pittsburgh as the location to launch his campaign for governor. The AG accepted an endorsement from Planned Parenthood and praised himself for protecting abortion rights while staying silent on the ongoing controversy in the city.
Unlike Shapiro’s open display, Magee’s annual board of directors meeting last month was described as “public” but held in private. The board’s chairman is denying requests to release the written record of what was discussed.
So is Leslie Davis, the president and CEO of the $23 billion UPMC system. Davis, a former Magee president, is also avoiding questions about her role in overseeing the hospital when the NIH awarded Pitt with $1.5 million toward a project that made UPMC and Pitt an aborted fetal tissue hub and collection site.
Shocking Claims Go Back Decades
Claims from whistleblowers that aborted babies have lived through the procedures at Magee go back as far as 1972, when a Magee nurse provided testimony to Pennsylvania’s Abortion Law Commission. She discussed witnessing moving, breathing fetuses being “packed in ice” and rushed to a laboratory. Doctors at the hospital were using a legal loophole to perform abortions during this time, according to a former Magee employee.
The earliest account of fetal experimentation goes back to Dr. Davenport Hooker. According to a 2014 article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, his first studies of human fetuses began in 1932 at Magee. Hooker would conduct examinations of aborted fetuses. He also provided clinical resuscitation when needed for the purpose of extending his observations. He would photograph or experiment on the babies before they died. Astonishingly, Hooker performed and filmed reflexive movement studies on more than 150 aborted babies at Magee during his tenure.
Given Magee’s history and ongoing lack of transparency, the Wolf administration would be wise to withdraw from partnering with the hospital until necessary investigations have been completed and relevant questions have been answered.