Following months of intense political pressure stemming from an inflammatory video campaign that accuses Planned Parenthood of illegally selling aborted fetal tissue, the national women’s health organization will make changes to the way its clinics handle these donations.
In a letter to the National Institutes of Health that was made public on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards confirmed that her group’s affiliates will no longer accept any reimbursements for the cost of collecting and transporting fetal tissue samples.
Richards explained that, although it’s legal for abortion clinics to receive reimbursement for the costs incurred by fetal tissue donation, her organization is taking steps to “completely debunk the disingenuous argument” that Planned Parenthood is improperly profiting from this practice.
At a handful of Planned Parenthood clinics, abortion patients have the option to donate the fetal tissue that results from their procedure. Scientists can then use that biological material to study new treatments for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. This practice — which was not politically controversial until anti-abortion activists’ video campaign construed it as a barbaric way to profit from aborted baby limbs — was legalized under the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act in 1993.
Planned Parenthood maintains that it isn’t violating this decades-old law. While the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act doesn’t allow health providers to profit from the sale of biological material itself, the measure does permit clinics to be reimbursed for the cost of shipping this material to scientific research facilities.
Still, Tuesday’s announcement is an attempt to stem the ongoing controversy swirling around Planned Parenthood, which has become the subject of multiple state investigations and five different congressional committees in the wake of the videos.
“Planned Parenthood’s policies on fetal tissue donation already exceed the legal requirements. Now we’re going even further in order to take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda,” Richards wrote.
In a press release circulated by the organization, Richards added that the new policy “removes beyond the shadow of a doubt the ludicrous idea that Planned Parenthood has any financial interest in tissue donation — and shows the real agenda behind these attacks.”
Nonetheless, the policy change is unlikely to satisfy Planned Parenthood’s most vocal critics.
Multiple investigations into the organization’s fetal tissue donation program have already come up empty, unable to find any evidence that Planned Parenthood is breaking the law. But that evidence hasn’t been enough to convince Republican lawmakers to call off the search. Just last week, House Republicans formed a special committee to continue probing the national women’s health organization, arguing that Planned Parenthood needs more oversight regardless of whether it’s actually violating any legal guidelines.
“Even if Planned Parenthood complied with the law, it’s clear we need to learn more about their barbaric tactics so we can amend those laws and ensure these practices never happen again,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said at the time.
Some abortion opponents have gone even further, suggesting that the campaign against Planned Parenthood will continue regardless of whether the group continues procuring fetal tissue donations — or even whether it continues performing abortions at all.
Dr. Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, one of the activists who has been organizing nationwide protests against Planned Parenthood clinics, said last week that she wants to defund Planned Parenthood regardless of its abortion services because she believes the group promotes a “corrupt view of human sexuality.”
“And I say even if Planned Parenthood didn’t perform one single abortion, just the mere fact that its sexual ethic is corrupted means right there, should be the reason right there, that they should not receive any federal money,” she said. “The kind of sexual ethic that Planned Parenthood promotes is sex for recreation, sex for mere pleasure.”
The backlash against Planned Parenthood also shows no signs of abating on the state level. Regardless of the federal laws that govern fetal tissue donation, multiple states are already moving to ban the practice. Experts at the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that tracks reproductive health policy, expect a rush of similar legislation next session.