A newly released video sure seems damning to Planned Parenthood on the surface. But the truth seems to lurk somewhere underneath.
An incendiary, hidden-camera video released Tuesday by an anti-abortion group showing a Planned Parenthood executive casually discussing fetal tissue donation over lunch has resulted in a House committee investigation and much denunciation from Republican candidates. And the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress -- which for three years posed as a company procuring tissue for medical research -- has promised there will be more such videos to come. But in a statement, Planned Parenthood calls the video a “heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research.”
The video takes place at a restaurant, over red wine and salads, between Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services and what she believes to be a fetal tissue procurement company, actually the anti-abortion group. Heavily edited clips spread across the Internet Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Internet uproar made it all the way to Washington. Abortion foes claim the tape portrays the illegal sale of fetal parts, and the House investigation will focus on allegations that Planned Parenthood “altered abortion procedures in order to harvest the organs and body parts of aborted children for money,” according to a statement on the House Judiciary Committee's website.
Nearly all of the Republican candidates for president promptly denounced Planned Parenthood, which has long been a target of conservatives: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas launched a tirade on Twitter. "Allegations @PPact is possibly selling the body parts of the babies it has aborted is sickening. Congress should investigate & defund them," one said. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said, "Congress must feel the pressure. Will you sign your "Defund Planned Parenthood" petition now?" Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee "pledged to defund #PlannedParenthood!" Dr. Ben Carson weighed in, too: "#PlannedParenthood and their enablers must be stopped from these barbaric practices." ... and that's just to name a few.
For years, the right has tried to cut off the federal funding the group gets for non abortion related services for low income women like sexual health and contraception.
The full recording, made in January 2014, includes Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, saying several times that “affiliates are not looking to make money doing this.” With regards to changing abortion procedures for the purpose of tissue donation, which is illegal, Nucatola says in the video, “You should always do the procedure the same, and that’s what the providers try to do. They’re not gonna treat these patients any differently than they would treat any other patients, just the disposition of the tissue at the end of the case is different.”
The video's full transcript suggests that Center for Medical Progress managed to infiltrate some of the most cautious and highly secured gatherings of abortion providers.
Nucatola estimates in the video that a clinic could be reimbursed $30 to $100 for space and staff time, though the way the video is edited makes it seem like the money is actually for the body parts themselves. Nucatola does say, "I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to—they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that." But that's the strongest evidence the video offers to suggest that Planned Parenthood stands to profit from the practice.
The video shows Nucatola dicussing -- in graphic detail -- leaving certain organs intact during an abortion in order to potentially preserve them for tissue donation. “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact,” Nucatola says. The video also suggests -- by equating a breech delivery after fetal demise with the procedure, while flashing the law across the screen -- that Nucatola may be violating the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. However, the full transcript makes clear she is talking about ambiguities and discussions among providers about which procedures are in compliance in the law. (There is no such medical procedure known by doctors as "partial birth abortion.")
Msnbc unsuccessfully reached out to a representative for the Center for Medical Progress -- which is not affiliated with a similarly-named institution at the Manhattan Institute -- for an interview. David Daleiden, whom The Washington Post said “ran the project” for the group, told the paper that the group used “police-quality undercover cameras” to record Nucatola, adding, “I don’t answer questions about our undercover costumes.” Daleiden has previously written articles for the website of Live Action, whose founder, Lila Rose, teamed up with conservative activist James O’Keefe for other videos seeking to entrap Planned Parenthood.
According to the American Society for Cell Biology, “Due to their capacity to rapidly divide, grow, and adapt to new environments, fetal cells hold unique promise for medical research into a variety of diseases and medical conditions.” Nucatola says in the video, "I think patients respond most to knowing the types of outcomes that it might contribute to, so for example Alzheimer's research, Parkinson’s research. I think most of these patients have some experience with at least one of these conditions or another."
A previous version of the Center for Medical Progress's website, reported by Slate, shows the lengths the organization went to in order to deceive abortion providers, including video interviews from The International Society for Stem Cell Research. Reached by msnbc, the society declined comment.
The group's representatives -- identified in the transcript as "buyer," but apparently consisting of two individuals -- refer often to contact they have had with other abortion providers, including attending the annual meeting of the National Abortion Federation, a trade group for abortion providers. Vicki Saporta, that group's president, told msnbc that out of respect for "the safety of our providers, we can’t discuss who was at our meeting." But she added, "Anti-abortion groups have tried to infiltrate NAF meetings for years. In fact, Operation Rescue used to pay $1000 for every tape of every session." Generally, she said, attendees must either be members or have two letters of reference from members.
"Like everybody else, we’re waiting to see what else comes out," Saporta said. She said that NAF guidelines clearly outline that "there can’t be any financial incentives for the patient and clinics, and providers can’t gain from their participation in fetal tissue donation."
Saporta added, "We have very clearly supported fetal tissue research for medical and humanitarian purposes."
The sting echoes another one conducted on an abortion provider in 2000, which failed to yield any criminal charges. Even the luxurious setting -- which fits an anti-abortion narrative that Planned Parenthood only cares about profit -- is the same. According to a post by the National Right to Life Committee at the time, "Dr. Miles Jones discussed brains, kidneys, hearts, and livers as he munched 'lobster bisque and roast duck.'"