Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Louisiana after a video surfaced claiming to implicate the organization in a scheme to sell the body parts of infants. "Today's video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing the systematic harvesting and trafficking of human body parts is shocking and gruesome," Governor Bobby Jindal said in a statement. However, the video is not nearly as straightforward as Jindal's explanation.
The video was produced by the Center for Medical Progress, which calls itself "a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances."
On its website, the center says it is a nonprofit organization. GuideStar, an organization which monitors and updates information about nonprofits regularly, showed the center as registered in Sacramento, California. The center had not filed any financial, governance, programs or impact information with GuideStar.
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The center's leader, David Daleiden, has written anti-abortion literature for The Weekly Standard and is referenced on the pro-life website of Jill Stanek. Files uploaded by Daleiden to Scribd include "Prayers for the day," which Daleiden describes as "one way to structure your prayer life throughout the day that some people may find helpful."
Though Daleiden's organization shares a name with the Manhattan Institute's Center for Medical Progress, a spokeswoman for the institute told Newsweek the two group's are "totally separate organizations" who have "never been affiliated." This is all to say, the video was not made by a purely scientific center, despite the organization's name, nor in a purely objective manner.
The video made by Daleiden purports to show Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services discussing the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses. Dr. Deborah Nucatola sits at lunch with actors, who posed as members of a fetal tissue procurement collection company. Though the sale of body parts of any human is illegal, donating tissue is entirely legal in the United States, so long as there is no profit from it.
"Fetal tissue transplantation offers unique research opportunities for exploring fetal development and epigenetic changes that stem from common environmental exposures and other stressors," researchers wrote in the U.S. National Library of Medicine in 2012. The researchers note the ethical complexities behind the research, though the practice is entirely legal. A 1988 publication on fetal tissue transplants in the Washington University Law Review notes that while the "tissue transplant from aborted fetuses may thus restore functions in persons suffering from degenerative neurological diseases.... Right-to-life groups fear that it will legitimate and encourage abortion."
Tissue donation is different than the harvesting of human organs for sale, though some do consider the two equally controversial, as in the case of Daleiden's organization. In the video, which has been edited, Nucatola discusses body parts and tissue as they are needed for research. "We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I'm not gonna crush that part, I'm gonna basically crush below, I'm gonna crush above, and I'm gonna see if I can get it all intact," she is heard saying, though due to editing, the context is not entirely clear.
At no point in the video does Nucatola say Planned Parenthood actually sells body parts, fetal or otherwise, though the center has claimed Planned Parenthood is involved in the "illegal trafficking of aborted fetal parts." Similarly, she does not admit to selling tissue, either personally or through the organization.
Daleiden said in a statement: "Planned Parenthood's criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts reaches to the very highest levels of their organization. Elected officials must listen to the public outcry for Planned Parenthood to be held accountable to the law and for our tax dollars to stop underwriting this barbaric abortion business."
Planned Parenthood has rejected Daleiden's claims and video. Eric Ferrero, the organization's vice president of communications, offered this statement:
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. 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.
A well funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood's mission and services has promoted a heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research. Similar false accusations have been put forth by opponents of abortion services for decades. These groups have been widely discredited and their claims fall apart on closer examination, just as they do in this case.
Daleiden didn't respond to Newsweek's request for comment.