An undercover video surfaced Tuesday purportedly showing a high-level Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of tissue obtained from aborted fetuses. Heavy emphasis on purportedly.
Conservative media outlets have covered the video extensively. Abortion opponents have alleged the video shows there is a black market for fetal tissue, and the originators of the video allege Planned Parenthood is breaking the law. The apparently casual, some might say callous, tone of the Planned Parenthood official — shown on the video talking about how to avoid “crushing” certain parts of the fetus during the abortion procedure to preserve more desirable tissue — has further enflamed the debate.
The video is being blamed (or credited, depending on your point of view) for fueling an effort to derail a bill in Congress to mint a commemorative breast cancer coin because some of the proceeds from the coin were to go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which provides some non-abortion funding to Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is on the defensive, arguing the video was “heavily edited” and doesn’t show any wrongdoing.
The group behind the video claims Planned Parenthood is illegally “selling” tissue from aborted fetuses.
The nine-or-so minute video was posted online by the group The Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday morning, and has since gone viral, attracting more than 1 million views.
In it, Dr. Deborah Nucatola — Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research — appears to explain to two actors posing as representatives from a human biologics company how she and her colleagues can provide researchers with tissue from aborted fetuses and what they charge for certain organs.
Over a salad and red wine, a seemingly flippant Nucatola details the graphic abortion procedures to extract fetuses as to keep certain muscles and organs intact. She also can be seen explaining how clinic staff routinely monitor the types of tissues being requested by harvesters, and alter their procedures to salvage those organs.
Towards the end of the edited video, the actors appear to approach Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to compliment Nucatola’s guidance on obtaining fetal tissue; Richards calls Nucatola “amazing.”
The Center for Medical Progress also posted a longer cut of the footage that lasts more than two and a half hours.
Not much is known about the group behind the video.
The mission statement posted online by the Center for Medical Progress — which had a limited web presence prior to this week — states that it is “dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.” But the anti-abortion movement is suspected of being behind the video.
The Center for Medical Progress appears to be affiliated with the Life Legal Defense fund, an anti-abortion legal group. The leader of the video effort, David Daleiden, previously worked for Live Action — another anti-abortion group known for “sting” videos — and has written anti-abortion op-eds elsewhere. He also seems to run in the same circles as fellow conservative “citizen journalists” James O’Keefe and Charles Johnson.
The video was quickly picked up by anti-abortion websites like Life News, as well as major conservative outlets including The Blaze, The Washington Times, Breitbart and HotAir, and got placement on The Drudge Report.
The Federalist, meanwhile, screamed of a media “blackout” among mainstream and liberal outlets, although Vox, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and others published coverage by Tuesday evening.
Planned Parenthood doesn’t deny its affiliates provide researchers with fetal tissue from abortions.
Planned Parenthood said that the video “falsely portrays” its operations, but acknowledged that its providers do offer abortion patients the option to donate fetal tissue for scientific research.
“There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood,” Eric Ferrero, a Planned Parenthood Federation for American spokesman, said in a statement. “In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”
Providing fetal tissue to researchers is legal, but there are ethics concerns surrounding the practice.
Even abortion opponents concede that federal law allows Planned Parenthood affiliates to recoup the additional costs, such as for preservation and transportation, of providing fetal tissue for scientific research, for which abortion patients must provide consent.
In response to Planned Parenthood’s initial defense, The Center for Medical Progress touted an ad for a bio-materials company bearing the endorsement of a Planned Parenthood doctor that mentions the “financial profits” of participating in the tissue donation program.
In the longer cut of the video, Nucatola explains, “At the end of the day, they’re non-profits. They just want to break even and if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that. But really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just a penny they give to another patient.”
One bioethicist expressed discomfort with the practice.
“It makes Planned Parenthood or any abortion clinic look like it’s trying to generate some other source of income, and it puts the clinic in a position that generates a lot of unease,” New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan told Vox, noting that, “It shifts the focus away from the women and their needs.”
The video has already had effects in Congress and on the 2016 campaign trail.
Republican presidential candidates — many of them already tacking right on social issues — were quick to condemn Planned Parenthood in light of the video.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced that his health department was launching an investigation into the matter, although Louisiana Planned Parenthood currently doesn’t operate any abortion clinics in the state (it is planning to open one in New Orleans). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), meanwhile, called for a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood, as well as terminating funding for the organization, which receives federal money for non-abortion health services. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said the video is “a disturbing reminder of the organization’s penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life,” while his successor Gov. Greg Abbott (R) also hinted at a state investigation. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) called it “absolutely horrifying and disgusting.”
Meanwhile, on the Hill, Speaker John Boehner said he was looking into holding congressional hearings over the matter, and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, hosted a press conference Wednesday to address the video. The House Judiciary and Energy & Commerce committees have already announced investigations into the allegations raised by the video.
The video plays into the current debate over prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as fetal tissue is more likely to be procured from late-term abortions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already promised a vote on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) 20-week abortion ban bill, which has the support of all the major GOP White House candidates. Walker is about to sign a bill that would make Wisconsin the 15th state to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, though some of those bans have been blocked by the courts.
Planned Parenthood was also under scrutiny this week for its relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which provides funding for breast cancer screenings at the clinics. A bipartisan bill to mint a commemorative coin that would raise money for organization’s cancer research was yanked from the floor Tuesday when conservatives made a fuss over Komen’s Planned Parenthood ties.