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Planned Parenthood: Even 'full' videos were altered

A forensic analysis by a group hired by Planned Parenthood finds anti-abortion sting videos are missing significant chunks of video.
A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen in Vista, Calif., Aug. 3, 2015. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)
A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen in Vista, Calif., Aug. 3, 2015. 

Six weeks and eight videos into a campaign by an anti-abortion group — which says its secretly recorded videos show evidence that Planned Parenthood broke federal laws governing fetal tissue donation — Planned Parenthood says that even the group's "full" videos have been significantly altered. 

According to a report compiled by a group Planned Parenthood hired, Fusion GPS, a forensic video expert found that the Center for Medical Progress's "full footage videos contained numerous intentional post-production edits." Based on the timestamps on the longer videos alone, roughly 30 minutes are missing from the videos recorded in Texas and Colorado. The research firm also found that the transcripts provided by the Center for Medical Progress are inaccurate as judged against a transcript made by an independent service. "All four transcripts by CMP contain substantive omissions, and the Texas transcript appears to be grossly edited," the Fusion GPS report says. 

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The group behind the videos, made up of anti-abortion activists, spent nearly three years posing as a fetal tissue procurement agency seeking to act as a middleman between Planned Parenthood and medical researchers.

Four congressional committees have announced that they will investigate Planned Parenthood, and Republican candidates have called for stripping the group of the federal funding it receives for women's health services. So far, five states have closed investigations without finding evidence of wrongdoing, and a criminal investigation has been opened in Texas. 

In a letter to congressional leaders, Planned Parenthood's president Cecile Richards provided the most detailed account yet of the Planned Parenthood's involvement in fetal tissue donation, which is legal under certain federal guidelines. The Center for Medical Progress has alleged that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from the donations and has expressed willingness to illegally alter procedures for the purpose of keeping specimens intact, which Planned Parenthood denies. 

"Only two of 59 Planned Parenthood affiliates are currently involved with fetal tissue research," she wrote. That represents 1% of the group's affiliates across the country. One affiliate in California works with a third-party contractor like the one the anti-abortion activists purported to be, she added, charging "$60 per tissue specimen" for what Richards said was reimbursement of costs, and an affiliate in Washington works directly with the University of Washington for no reimbursement. Four additional California affiliates have suspended their programs, three of them because of fallout from this controversy. 

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"Despite Mr. Daleiden’s three-year effort to entrap Planned Parenthood, he failed to succeed in convincing even a single affiliate to enter into a procurement contract with his fake company," Richards wrote, referring to David Daleiden, the Center for Medical Progress's ringleader. In the case of one video filmed in Colorado, Richards said, the doctor "repeatedly told the Biomax representative that legal counsel would have to review any contract with Biomax. These references were consistently deleted from the video excerpt Mr. Daleiden released. Indeed, legal counsel did in fact review the proposed Biomax contract and objected to its terms because they did not comply with federal law." 

With regards to the allegation that Planned Parenthood has altered abortion procedures to keep fetal specimens intact, Richards wrote, "In performing the selected method, a physician may need to make multiple adjustments to the method as the surgery proceeds. These adjustments are clinical judgments – not a change of method – made by the physician as the abortion proceeds and are always intended to achieve the woman’s desired result as safely as possible. ... Our understanding, however, is that even adjustments that facilitate fetal tissue donations rarely occur at our few clinics that offer women this service."

The Fusion GPS report also takes issue with a quote anti-abortion activists and politicians have seized upon, where a medical staffer allegedly says off camera, "It's a baby." The transcription firm "found this dialog to be unintelligible." The analysts, led by a former Wall Street Journal reporter, go further. "In our view, CMP created the purported statement, 'it’s a baby,' either through transcription error or intentional fabrication."

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The author of the report, Glenn Simpson, said on a call with reporters Thursday, "You couldn’t use this stuff in a court of law. You could try but you wouldn’t have a very easy time persuading anyone it’s useful."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said in response to Republican inquiries that her office is examining the evidence. In response to a request from congressional Democrats, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has said she is looking to allegations that the Center for Medical Progress itself broke the law in recording Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. 

Two separate organizations, Stem Express and the National Abortion Federation, have sued in state and federal court respectively seeking to block the videos' release. Planned Parenthood has not chosen to do so, though it has said it is looking at all options. 

Congress is currently in recess. Some Republicans have vowed to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood's federal funding for women's health services is revoked.