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Planned Parenthood warns of sting videos to come

Planned Parenthood responds to charges by an anti-abortion group posing as a medical research procurement service, and warns of more to come.
The entrance to a Planned Parenthood office in Boston.
The entrance to a Planned Parenthood office in Boston, Jan. 8, 2014.

Planned Parenthood, under fire for a heavily-edited video suggesting the organization violated federal law in facilitating the donation of fetal tissue, says it believes future videos may make racially-charged claims. The health provider and advocacy group also says the anti-abortion group posing as a medical research procurement company may have had access to the inside of its clinics, jeopardizing "our patients’ privacy and dignity."

RELATED: Excerpts from the second Planned Parenthood sting video

The new information was disclosed in a letter from Planned Parenthood's senior counsel, Roger Evans, in response to a request from a congressional committee that the doctor depicted in the video appear there for questioning. The Center for Medical Progress, a group that appears to have been formed for the sole purpose of secretly recording Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, has said it plans to release a video a week.

The first video, released on July 14, depicts a senior Planned Parenthood executive, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, casually discussing over lunch later abortion procedures and how to possibly leave intact fetal parts for the purpose of medical research. Nucatola did not know she was being recorded and apparently believed she was speaking with representatives of "Biomax," the fake tissue procurement company set up by anti-abortion activists. The full transcript makes clear that, contrary to the video's suggestion that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from these donations, Nucatola stressed that affiliates who participate in these programs are primarily seeking to be reimbursed.

Evans' letter says that the anti-abortion group tried to get Planned Parenthood to agree to higher amounts for fetal tissue, which he says were rebuffed. "Biomax offered to pay much more, sending the affiliate a 'procurement agreement' that offered a payment of $1,600 for a liver and thymus – an astronomical amount compared to the minimal cost-recovery fees that affiliates with tissue donation programs currently recoup," Evans wrote.

Evans' letter did not directly respond to questions about whether Nucatola or other providers may modify later abortion procedures for the purpose of keeping certain organs intact. He did say that Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood, "will lead our briefing team." The Republican-controlled House committee has asked for that briefing to take place before July 31. Nucatola is contradictory on that point in her discussion with "Biomax." On the one hand, she describes modifying procedures, and on the other, she says, “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.”

RELATED: Does the Planned Parenthood video violate state recording laws?

In a July 17 letter, House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Fred Upton requested that Nucatola herself “provide a briefing to the committee staff no later than July 31, 2015 to explain specifically the context and meaning of her statements on the video.” Evans said the group was still considering whether to make Nucatola available to the committee, since she had been accused by various Republican politicians of illegal activity. "We strongly dispute these assertions, and the longer video footage of the conversation with Biomax does not support them," he wrote. "But in light of these allegations, we are understandably in the process of retaining counsel to advise us on the best way to proceed." 

The letter from Upton and other committee members also expressed interest in the consent procedures, any prices or fees involved, the extent of affiliations’ participation, and “whether the process or timing of an abortion is manipulated for the purposes of collecting fetal tissue.” 

Evans' letter points out that "ten times during the conversation, Dr. Nucatola said Planned Parenthood would not sell tissue or profit from tissue donations, and all ten instances were cut out of the video, misleading the public into thinking she said something she didn’t." He also lays out some of the background of the group involved in "Biomax Procurement Services," which spent almost three years convincing abortion providers it was a legitimate company. "Biomax set up exhibits at our National Medical Conference and our National Conference over the last couple of years," Evans writes. 

Abortion opponents have tried for decades to accuse abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood, of being motivated by racism, citing founder Margaret Sanger's early-20th century alliance with eugenicists and claiming, falsely, that abortion clinics are disproportionately clustered in neighborhoods where African-Americans live. Evans wrote that Planned Parenthood believes that "in at least one interaction at a Planned Parenthood facility, the Biomax representative asked questions about the racial characteristics of tissue donated to researchers studying sickle cell anemia, apparently seeking to create a misleading impression."

The letter also discloses that David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind the sting operation, "used a false California driver’s license in gaining access to Planned Parenthood facilities." It cites an msnbc report that the effort may have broken California's recording privacy law. 

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and fellow committee member and staunch abortion opponent Rep. Trent Franks, wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, also on July 17. They said Nucatola’s comments in the video, describing “actions taken during abortions to produce intact organs for fetal tissue brokers,” may have violated the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act. “With this in mind,” the congressmen wrote, “please provide a summary of all actions your Department has taken to ensure compliance with the Partial-Birth Abortion Act. Further, we urge you to act swiftly to launch an investigation into any potential violations.” 

There is no such medical procedure as “partial-birth abortion.” In 2006, when the federal law was being challenged at the Supreme Court, Lynch signed an amicus brief calling the law unconstitutionally vague. It was later upheld by the Supreme Court, 5-4.  

Last week, Planned Parenthood released a video featuring its president, Cecile Richards, defending the affiliates' participation in fetal tissue donation programs and apologizing for Nucatola's tone in the video.