A new video is making the rounds through conservative media, claiming that Planned Parenthood of America is “selling” fetal tissue and organs. The eight-minute “undercover” video, which surfaced last week, purports to show a Planned Parenthood employee talking about selling the body parts of aborted human fetuses for the non-profit’s financial gain. Which would be shocking, certainly—if any of it were true.
The selectively-edited video, filmed by a group called Center for Medical Progress, was secretly recorded at a restaurant by a man and a woman posing as reps for a fetal tissue collection center. In it, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, is heard discussing procedures used by abortion doctors to preserve fetal tissue and organs for patients who want to donate them for research. She is speaking to an activist posing as a “fetal tissue procurement company,” according to the video.
“Every provider has had patients want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them,” Nucatola says in the video. She explains that clinics will be reimbursed $30 to $100 per specimen for transport, which anti-choice activists said was evidence that Planned Parenthood is selling the tissue for profit. The The Center for Medical Progress accuses Planned Parenthood of being in violation of two different laws: 42 U.S. Code § 274e (prohibition of organ purchases) and 42 U.S. Code § 289g–2 (prohibitions regarding human fetal tissue). In both cases, the laws apply to “selling” organs or tissue — not to reimbursing a medical practitioner for costs associated with the procurement and transportation of these organs and tissues.
Demonstrating their typical disregard for things like facts, evidence, or honesty, conservative media wasted no time in slandering Planned Parenthood and all of their patients who’ve chosen tissue donation. An article by the Blaze, a website founded by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, claimed that Nucatola had been “caught on tape selling the body parts of aborted children,” while the conservative website Daily Caller characterized the video as evidence that Planned Parenthood “[sells] the body parts of aborted babies, in some cases using an illegal partial-birth abortion procedure.” Meanwhile, LifesiteNews, an anti-choice website, described the tissue donation process as “illegal harvesting” of “aborted baby body parts.”
Of course, the video shows none of these things. Nucatola wasn’t discussing the illegal black market sale of fetal organs, but instead the perfectly legal donation of the organs to biomedical research laboratories that use the organs to help save lives. The price range of the organs described by Nucatola is, in reality, the reimbursed expenses accrued in the delivery of the specimens — which, again, is painfully obvious to all but the most vapid or ideologically blinded viewers, as anyone with common sense knows that the price range of $30 to $100 comes nowhere close to the actual cost of purchasing human organs.
The extent to which the video had been deliberately and deceptively edited was confirmed when the entire two hours of footage was finally released a few days ago. Throughout the entire exchange, Nucatola speaks only of “tissue donation,” never once mentioning tissue or organ “sales.” In fact, the full-length video shows that Nucatola stated 10 different times that Planned Parenthood would not sell tissue or profit from tissue donations. Yet, coincidentally, all 10 instances were cut out of the video to to make it appear as if she said just the opposite.
Planned Parenthood has been permitted under federal law to donate the organs and tissues of aborted fetuses, with the permission of abortion patients, to legitimate research facilities. Moreover, federal law permits abortion clinics to collect reimbursement fees due to costs associated with these donations, such as transport and storage. The donation of fetal tissue is no different than any other situation in which a patient might donate tissue to scientific research. No money changes hands, and the donation could help pave the way to any number of medical breakthroughs.
“In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications, Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a written statement. “Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. 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.”
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the source. Planned Parenthood notes that the group is “a long time anti-abortion activist that has used deceptive and unethical video editing, and that has created a fake medical website as well as a fake human tissue website that purports to provide services to stem cell researchers.” The man currently being credited as the “leader” of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, is the former director of research for Live Action, the radical right-wing group that put out similarly misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood over similarly false allegations involving sex-selective abortions and sex-trafficking. From his time at Live Action, Daleiden is also directly linked to James O’Keefe—otherwise known as the right-wing zealot behind the heavily edited and profoundly misleading videos that instigated the ACORN controversy back in 2009. O’Keefe was later forced to pay a $100,000 settlement to the ACORN employee at the center of the video and has since been criminally convicted for his part in similar scandals.
Of course, the fact that the video doesn’t show the wrongdoing it purports to hardly matters. As many others have pointed out, the accusation of “selling” fetal tissue is mostly just an excuse to put the image of fetal tissue in people’s minds. It’s hard to listen to someone talk so explicitly and clinically about the process for a second-trimester abortion. Like most medical procedures, it’s gruesome. Plus, for some, the fact that a fetus could grow into a human being no doubt adds another layer of emotion to their visceral reaction. But neither of those facts changes the reality that it’s also necessary.
As Jessica Valenti notes, “The man behind [the video] wants you to be horrified enough that you’ll nod along in agreement – or at least stand by – as Republican politicians erode women’s rights to reproductive health… Not because the organization has done anything illegal, but because people don’t like watching a doctor describing abortion in a matter-of-fact way over lunch.” Like pretty much the entire anti-choice movement, it’s relying on a strategy of manipulating emotions and ignoring facts.
And it’s working, at least among Republicans, who have pounced on the chance to attack Planned Parenthood and, by extension, the services they provide to millions of women. Speaker John Boehner raced to put out a statement staunchly condemning the video, while GOP Presidential candidates have declared the video “sickening” and “outrageous.” Most disturbingly, the House Energy and Commerce Committee used this slanderous, misleading video as the basis for launching an investigation into Planned Parenthood.
You can rest assured that cycle will repeat again this week as anti-choice activists release yet another shocking* (*not actually shocking at all) video revealing deceptively edited video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing tissue donation. But don’t let the hype distract you from what’s really at stake: the reproductive autonomy of every woman in the country.