On Tuesday, a pro-life group called the Center for Medical Progress released a hidden-camera video (above) that purports to show a high-ranking Planned Parenthood official named Dr. Deborah Nucatola talking about selling parts of dead fetuses for profit in between sips of wine and bites of salad.
Naturally, conservative media sites all posted this video in a frenzy, holding it up as an example of Planned Parenthood's callousness and the horrors of the abortion industry. The outrage reached a fever pitch so quickly that Louisiana governor and 2016 presidential candidate Bobby Jindal has already announced he's launched an investigation of Planned Parenthood in his state. The key quote that many have seized on is when Nucatola says that the price of a body part can range from $30 to $100.
But Planned Parenthood denounced the video as "heavily edited" and said that Nucatola was simply talking about the costs associated with tissue donation—under federal law it's illegal to sell parts of fetuses for a profit, but it's legal to be compensated for the costs of transporting donated tissue. (The CMP also released a longer, supposedly uncut version of the video, which is nearly three hours long. UPDATE 7/15: Many media outlets have reported that the longer video straight-up contradicts the claims made by the anti-abortion activists.)
According to a statement sent to VICE by Planned Parenthood vice president of communications Eric Ferrero, what you see in the video is a "Planned Parenthood staff member talk[ing] about standard reimbursement fees for costs associated with tissue donation programs, which every health care provider has and which the federal law provides for."
Ferrero also emphasized that donation of fetal tissue is strictly voluntary on the part of the mother: "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."
Left-leaning publications have since run pieces pointing out numerous problems with the video's claims. "The price per specimen was $30 to $100, which obviously covered no more than shipping and normal handling," wrote Mother Jones's Kevin Drum. "It plainly wasn't enough for this to be an illegal for-profit business."
But what stands out in the video isn't the alleged lawbreaking but the cavalier manner in which Nucatola discusses the gory business of dealing with the organs of aborted fetuses. A moment where Nucatola says, "I'd say a lotta people want liver"—referring to fetus liver—while eating a forkful of salad is almost certain to attain internet immortality among pro-lifers. Then there's the bit where Nucatola talks about the difficulty of preserving tissue while performing abortions: "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."
The bioethicist Arthur Caplan told the Washington Post that what Nucatola is describing is ethically iffy, if not illegal. When you manipulate the procedure to ensure a good sample, "other things than women's health are coming into play," he told the paper, and it becomes "morally difficult."
The CMP and other groups of its ilk have been making an issue of tissue donation for a long time. The "harvesting" and "trafficking" of baby parts is a known anti-abortion talking point—in fact, the video opens with footage of news stories about the selling of fetal tissue from over a decade ago.
Nor are undercover operations unfamiliar to anti-abortion activists. A sting video by Live Action, which is tied to the Center for Medical Progress, was released in 2011: In it, a caller tries to schedule a mammogram and is told repeatedly that various Planned Parenthood facilities don't perform them—supposedly proving that Planned Parenthood was exclusively for abortions.
This video promises to be a much bigger deal, with presidential candidates Rick Perry and Carly Fiornia using it as an opportunity to slam Planned Parenthood. The Washington Post also said it might "reignite a long-standing debate over the use of fetal tissue harvested through abortions."
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