An undercover video is circulating from a group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress, which purports to show a Planned Parenthood employee discussing the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses. In a statement, PP says the video is false and portrays a deeply misleading portrait of their practice of donating fetal tissue. False allegations that abortion clinics “sell” aborted fetuses have circulated for years.

We first began seeing the video on anti-abortion websites Tuesday morning, although it’s still unclear who the “Center for Medical Progress” is. This is their only video; they list their contact person as David Daleiden, who’s written a handful of anti-abortion columns for Live Action and the Weekly Standard.

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The video opens with a clip from a 2000 episode of 20/20, then transitions into what it says is Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the Senior Director of Medical Services for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, discussing the sale of aborted fetuses. The YouTube description says she was talking to actors posing as executives from a “human biologics” company:

“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,” Nucatola says.

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In a statement, PPFA said that they give patients the option to donate fetal tissues, which is used for medical research and is never sold:

“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. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

“A well funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services has promoted a heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research. Similar false accusations have been put forth by opponents of abortion services for decades. These groups have been widely discredited and their claims fall apart on closer examination, just as they do in this case.”

Fetal tissue donation is heavily regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections, and it is one hundred percent legal. It requires informed consent from the woman donating the tissue, and neither she nor the donating organization may be paid, apart from what the HHS calls “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

The “fetal body parts for sale” claim comes up every few years. The 20/20 piece featured a pathologist named Miles Jones who was, they said, actively profiting from the sale of fetuses. Jones was summoned before Congress to explain his sketchy business practices and didn’t appear; the U.S. Attorney ultimately determined no laws had been broken. Miles, who died in 2013, eventually did several years in prison for tax evasion.

The claim surfaced again in 2010, a “study” from an anti-abortion organization called Respect for Life, which conflated fetal tissue donation—again, legal—with the for-profit sale of fetal tissue. The same year, Dr. Theresa Deisher claimed at an anti-abortion conference that abortions are encouraged in order to create a larger pool of potential fetus-parts. (Deisher has also been critized for her claims that vaccines cause autism, a stand linked to her belief that there are aborted fetuses in vaccines.) Deisher is not a physician, by the way, but a PhD in molecular biology. She runs a company called Ave Maria Biotechnology that claims to provide pro-life, non-fetused vaccines.

Daleiden at the Center for Medical Progress issued a follow-up statement today claiming that Planned Parenthood doesn’t get informed consent from its patients to donate fetal tissue, although he doesn’t offer any proof:

Planned Parenthood makes two key admissions in their statement today: 1) aborted fetal parts are harvested at their clinics, and 2) money is exchanged in connection with this. They also tell several lies: 1) That proper consent is obtained from patients, 2) That Planned Parenthood does not make money off the body parts, and 3) that everything is legal.

The video is fast becoming a right-wing talking point, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issuing a statement condemning the “trafficking of human body parts” and saying his state and the FBI will investigate:

Deborah Nucatola appears to have deleted her Twitter account.

Update 5:30 p.m.

Our own Stassa Edwards points out that Daleiden was written about in glowing terms by notorious trollblogger Chuck C. Johnson, a classmate of his at Claremont McKenna College.


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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