Keeping the Spotlight on Planned Parenthood


Do not be distracted by misdirection. Do not let the horror of abortion be the main issue. Stick to the pertinent facts: Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal parts. Planned Parenthood is routinely violating federal law. Planned Parenthood does not care about women.

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Far be it from me to deflect attention from a national discussion about the barbarity of abortion. But when Planned Parenthood and its media supporters are actually spending time defending the practice, pro-lifers should realize that something is amiss.

The Washington Post recently published an editorial lamenting the effort to defund Planned Parenthood based on videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress. After all, the editors point out, “they reveal nothing that changes the substance of the debate over abortion.” True enough.

Similarly, my local Minneapolis paper had a lead editorial a couple of Sundays back under the headline, “Shock videos set back abortion debate.” In it, the editorial board bemoaned the fact that the videos were actually “distracting” us from the real abortion debate. As I pointed out, the grisly details of dishes full of aborted babies being picked over like a plate of hors d’oeuvres is precisely what the abortion debate is all about. It is not, however, the point of the videos.

The Issue at Hand

Abortion apologists have always been fond of directing attention to something other than the issue in front of them. Point out that they kill babies, and they will say you hate women. Point out that abortion harms women, and they will remind you that they are a nonprofit organization. Point out that sales of fetal parts are making them a lot of money, and they will note that abortion is a small part of their services. They’re the victims. You’re against contraception. Research helps people. You’re the terrorists. Other people are doing it. He hit me first.

You know the drill.

While these editorials go about it in different ways, their underlying message is the same: let’s concentrate on abortion itself. Let’s talk about why it is important that it be available. Let’s talk about its legality and constitutionality. Let’s talk about its ugliness. Let’s talk about the insensitivity of some of its practitioners. Let’s talk about anything but the issue at hand: why we should defund Planned Parenthood—and, quite possibly, prosecute some of its executives and practitioners.

When people who normally spend all their energy directing your attention to anything other than what abortionists actually do suddenly want to have a chat about abortion, you have to ask, “What are they trying to avoid talking about?”

Why We Should Defund Planned Parenthood

Oddly, showing the barbarity of abortion, and the moral depravity of its practitioners, is not the main point of these videos, as sickening as they are.

Rather, the focus should be on three main problems these videos cause for Planned Parenthood: First, Planned Parenthood affiliates, with consent of the national office, are clearly violating several federal regulations concerning obtaining fetal tissue for research—possibly including making an illegal profit from the deal. Second, in doing so, they are violating their own protocols and terms of consent with the women undergoing the abortions. Third, it is apparent from these violations that Planned Parenthood does not care about the women it claims it is so moved to serve.

US Code Title 42, Chapter 6A, Subchapter III, Part H, paragraph 289g-1 gives the conditions for the donation of fetal tissue. Under b) 2) A), the following regulations are in place:

1. the consent of the woman for the abortion was obtained prior to requesting or obtaining consent for a donation of the tissue for use in research;

2. no alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue

Furthermore, HHS regulations, as spelled out in Chapter VI of the Institutional Review Board Guidebook, insist:

-The decision to terminate a pregnancy and procedures of abortion should be kept independent from the retrieval and use of fetal tissue.

- The timing and methods of abortion should not be influenced by the potential uses of fetal tissue for transplantation or medical research.

- Payments and other forms of remuneration and compensation associated with the procurement of fetal tissue should be prohibited, except payment for reasonable expenses occasioned by the actual retrieval, storage, preparation, and transportation of tissue

The Code of Federal Regulations at 46.204 (h) and (i) says:

(h) No inducements, monetary or otherwise, will be offered to terminate a pregnancy;

(i) Individuals engaged in the research will have no part in any decisions as to the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy.

And at 46.206:

(a) Research involving, after delivery, the placenta; the dead fetus; macerated fetal material; or cells, tissue, or organs excised from a dead fetus, shall be conducted only in accord with any applicable federal, state, or local laws and regulations regarding such activities.

Profiting from the Sale of Fetal Tissue

Planned Parenthood affiliates, with full knowledge and consent of Planned Parenthood’s national office, did not simply recoup costs associated with supplying fetal tissue for research. They profited handsomely from it.

The communications director of our local PP affiliate, in responding to my earlier essay, made it very clear that no one at Planned Parenthood can possibly be making a profit by selling fetal tissue because—how hard can this be to understand?—it is a nonprofit. This, of course, is like saying that, because your local university is a nonprofit, no one is making a profit at the university—say, the president who earns $500,000, or the football coach who takes home $2,000,000. Quite a few people make quite a bit of money at nonprofits. The CEO of our local PP had income over $370,000. Cecile Richards, national president, takes home around half a million.

In these situations, those who are taking home the cash get to decide what counts as fair compensation. But if one asks about the actual costs of, say, putting a jar full of baby parts in a refrigerator overnight, and shipping them the next day, one quickly realizes that accepting $75-100 per leg or liver or brain covers far more than the materials and labor for storing and shipping tissue samples.

In the second video, Mary Gatter, president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council, and medical director at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles until 2014, is clearly willing to accept, not what it would cost her clinic to process the fetal organs, but whatever the buyer is willing to pay. In the third video, Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for PPFA, recognizes that the affiliates are looking for ways, not simply to break even, but to make a profit. In the fifth video, we see Abby Johnson, former director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, testifying before the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, that fetal specimens were bringing in up to $120,000 per month. “That is certainly not ‘recouping costs,’” she concludes.

In the fifth video, Melissa Farrell, current director of research at PP Gulf Coast, expresses her pride in how she contributes to the diversification of the revenue stream both locally and nationally. She talks about ways of “framing” compensation so that it does not look bad, especially if they are being paid more for tissue that is more difficult to obtain. If this were all just about recouping costs, there would be absolutely no reason to be looking for legal cover for their monetary gain.

The real kicker comes in the eighth video, where the CEO of StemExpress, Cate Dyer, explains why it is better for clinics to work with her company than rival Advanced BioScience Resources (ABR). ABR previously had a lock on the market because they had employees of their company on the advisory boards of Planned Parenthood affiliates. However, ABR, as a not-for-profit organization, was unwilling to pay as much as StemExpress, which was willing to give a kickback from their profits to the clinics.

In the ninth video, Perrin Larton, Procurement Manager for ABR, says that the company has people waiting right outside the operating room door to take the desired fetal tissue. If this is true, what possible cost could there be to be reimbursed? Any money received by a clinic under such circumstances is pure profit.

Manipulating Abortion Procedures

Even if the money Planned Parenthood makes from buyers such as StemExpress and ABR can, by some technicality, be legally designated “payment for reasonable expenses,” other federal regulations are clearly being violated. Planned Parenthood affiliates, with full knowledge and consent of Planned Parenthood’s national office, illegally manipulated abortion procedures.

The first, second, and fifth videos all contain statements from Planned Parenthood officials that, despite the sensitive—i.e., illegal—nature of doing so, they and their abortionists are perfectly willing to change the type of procedure they will perform, better to obtain the types of specimens desired. Deborah Nucatola, Mary Gatter, and Melissa Farrell all note that they have made such arrangements with their clinics’ abortionists and are willing to continue doing so in the future.

Why is this a problem? Would not any surgeon want to make sure the procedure he or she is using is the one best suited to obtaining the result?

The problem is that the type of procedure is supposed to be decided by what is medically best for the woman undergoing the abortion, not what is best for obtaining fetal tissue. Regulations are in place to protect the woman—the only person in the situation who is considered a patient. Before an abortion, women sign a consent form, which includes information about the type of procedure to be used. Only then is it legally permissible to ask the woman if she is willing to donate any usable body parts for research. This requires separate consent from the woman—and at this point, the procedure may not be changed to obtain more readily the particularly desired parts of the baby being killed.

The fact that Planned Parenthood officials are admitting to changing their procedures in order to obtain specific baby parts means that they are not only violating several federal laws, but also their own surgical protocols—all without the woman’s consent.

Caring for Women? 

What about the women that Planned Parenthood claims to care so much about? Does this organization really have their best interests at heart?

We have the testimony of former StemExpress procurement agent Holly O’Donnell that it was her job to pressure women into giving consent to fetal tissue donation, even when they clearly did not want to, by telling them that some good would come as a result of the valuable research to be performed on their dead babies’ remains. We further have her testimony that fetal tissue was not infrequently donated even when the woman did not give consent.

Protocols established to protect the safety and rights of women have been regularly violated by Planned Parenthood. The most damning element of this change in protocol is that it is easier on the woman to do a straightforward abortion than to do one while attempting to avoid harming fetal tissue. Undergoing an abortion can be painful; but certain procedures are more painful and drawn out than others.

According to someone identified only as “Tram” in the fifth video, success in obtaining specimens depends upon how far the woman is dilated and

how cooperative the patient is during the procedure… it’s kind of conscious sedation, but there’s also times where it’s just not—you’ve pretty much maxed out and, that’s their [pain] tolerance so it’s a little bit more difficult. And if they’re completely relaxed, it’s easier to not do so many passes with the forceps.

Tram says this with a note of pity in her voice. But they are the ones causing this woman completely unnecessary pain, frequently without her consent to a change in procedure, all for the sake of salvaging a bit more fetal tissue, which can earn them a few more dollars for the bottom line.

Care for women? Not when there's money on the line.

Stay Focused

As a nation, we’ve grown used to abortion, at least in the abstract. Talking about the grisly business of abortion and fetal tissue sales in all their bloody immediacy and concrete detail is understandably something that Planned Parenthood and its apologists shy away from most circumstances.

However, given the serious threat to their cash flow and to their image as the premier guardians of the health, safety, and rights of women, you can see why they might be willing to risk facing the music on abortion itself. So they’re falling back on the political clout of Planned Parenthood and the legal cover provided by a series of inexplicable Supreme Court decisions.

But this time, maybe it won’t work. Maybe people have finally had enough. Not yet enough of abortion, it would seem; these videos have not yet inspired anyone to introduce a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion. But maybe we’ve all had enough of Planned Parenthood. Perhaps when the giant is trimmed to a more human size, we can make better progress against abortion itself. But to win this battle, we must stay focused on the right goal and the right arguments.

Do not be distracted by misdirection. Do not let the horror of abortion be the main issue. At this point, they will win on that ground. Stick to the pertinent facts: Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal parts. Planned Parenthood is routinely violating federal law. Planned Parenthood really does not care about women.

Stephen J. Heaney is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN.

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