A medical ethics group called the Center for Medical Progress published a YouTube video Tuesday alleging that a senior physician from Planned Parenthood has been commercially trafficking aborted baby body parts. Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, appears to be in a video originally filmed on July 25, 2014 speaking over lunch in a restaurant with actors posing as buyers of fetal tissue. According to the video, Nucatola is a high level official who oversees abortions for Planned Parenthood clinics, trains other doctors and performs abortions past 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The woman identified as Nucatola speaks at length about partial-birth abortions in the video. From the way the footage is edited, Nucatola’s comments suggest that she has been coordinating abortions to yield body parts that are high in demand. She also references typical rates for which aborted baby parts are sold, listing price points from $30 to $100.
On hidden camera, Nucatola says, “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.” Here, the video suggests that Nucatola is explaining her practice for leaving certain fetal body parts intact during abortions to prime the tissue for resell. Nucatola allegedly goes on to say that her and her affiliates at Planned Parenthood would get into legal trouble for their practices, and that they do their best to cover themselves up.
Planned Parenthood promptly responded to the video with a statement from Vice President of Communications Eric Ferrero saying:
“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.”
Despite the off-putting presentation of Nucatola’s comments in the video, Planned Parenthood asserts that the video was highly edited, falsely attributed her statements and/or took her comments out of context. It is common knowledge that health care providers can and often profit from and utilize tissue donations with documented consent from patients.
However, it is the commercial sale of human body tissue that is illegal. A 1944 law states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce…Any person who violates subsection (a), (b), or (c) shall be fined in accordance with title 18, subject to paragraph (2), or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.”
Planned Parenthood asserts that Nucatola was not discussing selling rates for fetal tissue, but the legal practice of reimbursing patients whom wish to donate tissue after a procedure. They argue that aborted pregnancy tissue donation and research is used for cures, to save lives and to ease suffering. When informed of these practices, patients can legally donate their tissue if they choose. In an additional statement, the organization said:
“Federal, and frequently, state laws govern these activities, as well as ethical considerations. Patients provide specific consent to tissue donation. Planned Parenthood affiliates are eligible by law to receive reimbursement from tissue donation entities for the additional expenses related tissue donation, which can vary based on individual circumstance. No individual staff member or provider receives reimbursement; any reimbursements are provided to the affiliate.”
Planned Parenthood refuted the Center for Medical Progress’s credibility, pointing out that it lacks records verifying its status as a non-profit and that the group had previously formed a fake limited liability corporation. The organization also says that the founder of the Center, David Daleidan, has a history of creating failed stings, releasing videos with misleading editing and building fake medical websites offering abortion services. One of the sites that originally reported on the story, Live Action, is a self-described “extremist” site that has been cited as “conservative ‘gotcha’ video whose claims fall apart upon close inspection” by more reputable sites including Forbes, the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
The Center for Medical Progress could not be reached for comment on Ferrero’s statement at the time of reporting.
The term “partial abortion” differs in meaning from state to state but it essentially refers to late-term abortions in which a living fetus is delivered intentionally until either the head or the trunk of the baby (depending on the fetus’ birth presentation) is extracted from the mother. The procedure, medically referred to as dilation and extraction (D&X), was created by Dr. Martin Haskell in the early 90s to devise an abortion practice that wouldn’t require expectant mothers in their second-trimester to have an overnight stay. During the procedure, the woman’s cervix is dilated, then the fetus is extracted out of the birth canal. D&X is generally performed on women that are 20 weeks along or more, if the fetus shows abnormalities or if the mother’s health is at risk. However, some experts discourage the practice as it can create excessive blood loss and negatively impact a woman’s ability to have other children. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s latest, conclusive research, partial-birth abortions only constituted 2,200 (or .2 percent) out of the total 1.3 million abortions conducted in the year 2000.
President George Bush put out the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 which was later upheld by the Supreme Court in its decision on the case of Gonzales v. Carhart in April 2007. The federal law is in effect; however it does not specify the medical definition for the procedure it banned and 13 of the 32 states that have enacted laws banning partial-birth abortions are not in effect.
Pro-life activists are already responding to the video. One prominent pro-life advocate, Dr. Charmaine Yoest, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life has demanded that the government host an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s profiteering off of fetuses’ body parts. AUL goes as far to say that Planned Parenthood had been boosting its efforts in conducting abortion procedures to add more body parts for sale in its trafficking market. Yoest says the following on her organization’s blog:
“This video provides a shocking reality check about the grisly, inhumane business model of Planned Parenthood. Under Cecile Richards’ leadership, breast screenings are down, abortions are up and profits are up, as even the bodies of the unborn become something else for her to sell. We call for an immediate Congressional investigation into these alleged atrocities. And just as important, the time is now to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The American taxpayer should not be in business with such callous profiteers.”
Politicians have chimed in as well. Presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke out saying that his opposition to Planned Parenthood had motivated him to sign legislation defunding the organization in Texas. Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal has also condemned Planned Parenthood for what he calls “alleged evil and illegal activity.” Jindal has requested that his state’s health department lead an investigation on the matter.