TOPEKA – Kansas has not received a single report on the handling of fetal tissue in the 15 years that the information has been legally required whenever such tissue is transferred, the state health department has said amid a national debate over abortion providers’ activities.
The Department of Health and Environment’s disclosure comes in response to an Associated Press open records request, made after anti-abortion activists released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials outside Kansas discussing their handling of fetal tissue.
A 2000 Kansas law banning the for-profit sale of fetal organs or tissue requires any person who transfers the tissue – which can be legally donated – to file an annual report providing details about such activities with the state Department of Health and Environment.
Kansas’ three abortion providers say they don’t have programs for the legal donation of fetal tissue for research by women who’ve terminated their pregnancies, and follow all state and federal laws.
Abortion opponents said Thursday another explanation for the lack of reports is that the requirement is being ignored.
The AP initially requested reports on fetal tissue transfers from 2013 and 2014. Upon learning that none had been filed in that period, asked when such a report was last filed.
“A review of the state’s records indicate that no fetal tissue transfer reports have ever been filed with KDHE,” Michael Smith, a department attorney and its open records officer, said in an email.
The AP request came after Gov. Sam Brownback asked the state’s medical board to investigate whether illegal trafficking in fetal tissue was occurring in Kansas. The governor, a strong abortion opponent, was responding to the release of the covertly recorded videos.
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate, which performs abortions at an Overland Park clinic, has said Brownback launched a “politically motivated witch hunt.”
Neither Brownback’s office nor KDHE spokeswoman Sara Belfry would speculate on why no reports on fetal tissue transfers have ever been filed.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said she didn’t believe anyone could say for sure whether it was happening in Kansas.
“I don’t know how you would find out if you’re the state unless you had surprise and frequent inspections and you were looking specifically for it,” Culp said.
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, which operates a Wichita clinic that performs abortions, said it would not ignore any reporting requirement.
She said doing so would harm the clinic, because, “this is a politically hostile environment for us.”
“This is just somebody looking for a problem that’s nonexistent,” she said of Brownback’s call for an investigation.