Once again, Planned Parenthood has come under attack by anti-choice extremists who want to shut down the nation’s largest provider of reproductive and sexual health care.
In what might be the ugliest and most dishonest attack yet, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a radical anti-choice group associated with the violent extremist organization known as Operation Rescue, released a heavily edited nine minute video of a nearly three hour lunchtime meeting with Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola, claiming to have “proof” that the organization was harvesting fetal organs and selling them for profit, which would be a serious crime.
A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses. It shows nothing of the sort. But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year. The politicians howling to defund Planned Parenthood care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women’s reproductive rights any way they can.
The nine-minute video clip released by the Center for Medical Progress, an outfit apparently created in 2013, invites viewers to “Hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their illegal sale of baby parts.” In it, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, is seen discussing the collection of fetal tissue in a lunch meeting with two people posing as potential tissue buyers. A second video, released on Tuesday, shows another Planned Parenthood staff member discussing fetal tissue.
The full video of the lunch meeting, over two hours long and released by the Center for Medical Progress after complaints by Planned Parenthood, shows something very different from what these critics claim. Clearly, the shorter version was edited to eliminate statements by Dr. Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donation, which requires the clear consent of the patient. Planned Parenthood affiliates only accept money — between $30 and $100 per specimen, according to Dr. Nucatola — to cover costs associated with collecting and transporting the tissue. “This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at,” she said. Under federal law, facilities may be reimbursed for costs associated with fetal tissue donation, like transportation and storage.
The New York Times was not alone in their quick and thorough rebuttal of the slanderous claims made by the Center for Medical Progress. Within 24 hours of the video’s release, the “evidence” it claimed to offer had been debunked by the likes of The Washington Post, The Guardian, the Huffington Post, the International Business Times, and pretty much every legitimate news source out there. Even Snopes has already debunked it.
But the political conversation has quickly outpaced the facts. Almost immediately after the video surfaced, opportunistic politicians started tripping over themselves to declare their eagerness to investigate Planned Parenthood. Already, congressional Republicans have launched two separate probes into the organization’s activities. Eight Republican governors—including several who are running for president—have opened parallel investigations. Many Republican senators—including several who are running for president—have vowed to strip Planned Parenthood of its hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
All of this, even though there is nothing illegal about donating fetal tissue.
These political theatrics come at a cost to real people. When Republicans conspire with anti-abortion extremists to defund Planned Parenthood, they’re not just threatening women’s lives, they’re also aggressively striking at one of the most important advocates for women’s health in the country.
This is the real scandal, and all Americans — regardless of their views on abortion — should be outraged by the antics of anti-choice extremists and their supporters in the Republican party. Here’s why:
1. It’s wasting taxpayer money and being used to derail important legislation
It’s not just women who will pay the price for this disingenuous attack on Planned Parenthood. Once again, taxpayer money will be wasted on an investigation into Planned Parenthood based on a video that was debunked within 24 hours of dropping. Even abortion opponents should be infuriated by this blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars — not to mention the real problems that Republicans have pushed aside to make time for yet another baseless assault on women’s healthcare providers. As The Washington Post reported this week, “the Planned Parenthood controversy may have just killed a veterans bill,” referring to the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act, which was pulled just hours ahead of scheduled proceedings through the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Moreover, the very morning the video was released, Congress was set to vote on a bill to increase funding for breast cancer research. Since breast cancer groups like the Komen Foundation work with Planned Parenthood to screen women for cancer, this was a useful pretext for Republicans to kill plans to fund Komen’s cancer research.
2. The video was produced in part by a violent, extremist anti-choice group
The Center for Medical Progress says they produced the video “in consultation with” Operation Rescue, a radical anti-choice organization that openly promotes the murder of abortion doctors. The group’s Senior Policy Advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, was jailed for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic, and while in prison she regularly communicated with an Operation Rescue member who went on to murder abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Before his murder, the folks at Operation Rescue maintained something they called “Tiller Watch” on their website, which involved posting personal information about the doctor, including his real home address and the address of his church — which, of course, is where Dr. Tiller was ultimately gunned down by Operation Rescue member Scott Roeder.
Anti-abortion violence is one of the most common forms of domestic terrorism in the U.S. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, in the past three decades anti-abortion activists have targeted providers with more than 6,400 acts of violence including bombings, arsons, death threats, kidnappings, assaults, and murders, as well as more than 175,000 acts of disruption including bomb threats and harassing phone calls. Based on these numbers, abortion providers in the U.S. are confronted with violence every 1.7 days and deal with other forms of harassment 16 times each day. And Operation Rescue doesn’t stop with clinic employees: the group also has a long history of harassing, threatening, and physically confronting women going into abortion clinics, sometimes even snapping photographs of women in clinic parking lots.
The worst part? Despite their violent extremism, Operation Rescue has close ties with many mainstream anti-abortion groups and politicians, including many current Republican presidential candidates.
3. It threatens to roll back progress in science and medicine
The voluntary donation of fetal tissue is a standard practice in medicine, both for women giving birth and for those who choose to donate after a miscarriage or abortion. Researchers rely on stem cell tissue from fetuses, umbilical cords, and placentas for research of cancer and genetic disorders. Prior to a medical procedure, patients give consent to donate their tissue and medical centers participating in donation programs are reimbursed for the cost of transporting the tissue, not the tissue itself.
As the Times editorial board pointed out, vilifying Planned Parenthood for their participation in voluntary tissue donation programs threatens to undermine the lifesaving donation process itself:
Researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions like H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson’s. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood is certainly not the only collector of fetal tissue — clinics associated with universities also supply tissue for research.
The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.
4. It undermines women’s health
Planned Parenthood remains the nation’s leading reproductive health care provider and advocate with approximately 700 health centers across the country, seeing 2.7 million patients this year. Despite what anti-choice activists might have you believe, abortions make up only 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood (and not a single federally-funded penny goes to abortion care). The rest of their operations are devoted to essential preventive health services like family planning and birth control, pap smears, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, immunizations, infertility testing and referrals, and a range of community services like sex education for youth. There are already too few organizations providing comprehensive medical care — particularly reproductive health care — to women, especially poor women and women in underserved communities. In some rural parts of the country, Planned Parenthood clinics are the only sexual health providers for hundreds of miles. And every minute they’re forced to spend responding to baseless political attacks is a minute that they can’t spend on their critical mission of serving women all across the country. That should make all of us very angry.
5. It will increase the need for abortion
If the goal is to reduce abortion, defunding one of the nation’s largest providers of birth control and family planning services is not the way to get there. Right now half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. For unmarried women under 30, that’s almost 70%. A third of those pregnancies end in abortion. We know that when sex education and contraception are made available, unwanted pregnancies rates decline. It’s that simple. So those who wish to end abortions should be doing everything they can to provide access to comprehensive sex education and affordable healthcare. And that’s what Planned Parenthood does so well, helping to prevent 516,000 unintended pregnancies each year. Prevention equals no need for an abortion. But as history (and extensive data from countries worldwide) tells us, if women don’t have access to safe abortions, they don’t stop having abortions — they just stop having safe abortions.
Anyone who truly wants to see the abortion rate go down should be outraged by this latest attack on Planned Parenthood — an organization that has done more to reduce abortions than every anti-choice organization, lawmaker, and activist combined.