A heavily edited video that claims Planned Parenthood is “selling aborted baby parts” is spurring a new round of controversy over the national women’s health group — leading at least two presidential candidates to call for an investigation into the organization.
The video, which has inspired some prominent conservatives to make direct comparisons between Planned Parenthood and ISIS, is the latest example of a coordinated effort to discredit the abortion provider by making inflammatory accusations about its services that are taken out of context.
In the video, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, is explaining how her organization handles tissue donation from aborted fetuses.
Although Nucatola thought she was speaking to buyers from a biological company, she was actually meeting with actors working for an organization called the Center for Medical Progress — which describes itself as a “group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances” and has close ties to an infamous anti-abortion organization that works to discredit Planned Parenthood. Nucatola was unaware that she was being filmed.
The Center for Medical Progress says it has been investigating Planned Parenthood for nearly three years. David Daleiden, the media contact for the new investigative video project, used to work for Live Action News, the anti-choice group founded by Lila Rose that has pioneered sting operations at Planned Parenthood clinics for years. Live Action is notorious for releasing edited videos to mislead viewers about what Planned Parenthood employees are saying.
One of Live Action’s particular specialties is splicing together footage in a way that highlights abortion’s gory medical details. Of course, as with any other medical procedure, listening to doctors talk frankly about abortion can be gross. This is exactly what’s going on in the Center for Medical Progress’ new video; writing in Cosmopolitan, reporter Robin Marty described the video as “upsetting” and “off-putting,” particularly when Nucatola talks about the “menu” of fetal tissue and organs that patients may choose to donate.
Regardless of the potentially upsetting medical language, however, the Center for Medical Progress’ larger “findings” don’t hold up. Though the new investigation claims Planned Parenthood is profiting off the sale of fetal remains, Nucatola repeatedly emphasizes “tissue donation” and pushes back on the idea that her organization is selling anything. In the longer version of the raw video footage — which includes more than 150 additional minutes that didn’t make it into the final nine-minute version — there’s one instance when she says quite directly, “Nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.”
On Tuesday, the Center for Medical Progress also published other documents that purportedly back up its claims, including a Planned Parenthood consent form for tissue donation. That form explains that “research using the blood from pregnant women and the tissue that has been aborted has been used to treat and find a cure for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS” — and makes it very clear that donation is optional.
Abortion opponents have long been wary of medical advances that rely on using material from fertilized eggs and fetuses. That’s what spurs the debate over embryonic stem cell research, which used to be a much bigger culture war issue before the discovery of alternative stem cell options. Nonetheless, no matter how squeamish Americans may feel by the idea of donating aborted fetuses, this type of fetal tissue donation and research is legal, and has been for decades.
Eric Ferrero, the vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood, has dismissed the new video as a misleading portrayal of human tissue donation from activists who hope to smear Planned Parenthood’s reputation.
“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,” Ferrero said in a statement. “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.”
That hasn’t stopped GOP presidential candidates from demanding action. On Tuesday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) called the video “disturbing” and claimed Planned Parenthood has a “penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called for Congress to launch an investigation into “Planned Parenthood’s activities regarding the sale and transfer of aborted body parts.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), meanwhile, immediately launched a state-level investigation into the women’s health organization, which will prevent a new Planned Parenthood clinic from being able to open in New Orleans. Jindal has been working to block the construction of that facility for the past year.
The political response is reminiscent of the way that lawmakers handled the controversy over Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an illegal abortion provider who was arrested for preying on low-income women in his unsanitary clinic in Philadelphia. After horrifying details emerged about how Gosnell broke the law, Live Action released a misleading “investigation” claiming that legal abortion providers across the country were guilty of similar crimes. GOP lawmakers obliged by initiating an investigation into abortion clinics — which came up totally empty, finding evidence only that clinics are already highly regulated and quite safe.
This post has been updated to include additional comments from GOP candidates.