Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

New video raises serious questions about Planned Parenthood's abortions


An undercover video released Tuesday depicts a top Planned Parenthood official discussing techniques for aborting babies in a way to preserve their organs for transfer to an outside entity -- and the amount of money that entity might expect to pay for them.

The video, filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, shows a two-and-a-half-hour lunch meeting between two people acting as agents for a stem-cell research firm and Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In it, Nucatola talks about the need to structure pricing for the organs to avoid the "perception" that they are being sold -- which is against federal law. She also describes ways to perform the abortion to avoid damaging the organs, including one that is similar to the banned practice known as partial-birth abortion.

A shorter video with excerpts of the discussion is here (the full-length video follows at the bottom of this post):

Planned Parenthood released a statement acknowledging that "patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs" and that several of its facilities help them do so "with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards."

The video casts doubt on that part about the "highest ethical and legal standards" being in place. In the video, Nucatola is heard talking about avoiding the "perception" Planned Parenthood clinics were making money:

"Some might do it for free. (Others) want to come to a number that it doesn't look like they're making money. They want to come to a number that looks like it is a reasonable number for the effort that is allotted on their part."

Asked what amount might satisfy the clinics' "sensitivity" on this issue, Nucatola said:

"I'm going to throw a number out: I would say it's anywhere from $30 to $100 (per specimen), depending on the facility and what's involved. It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there who's going to be doing everything or is there staff going to be doing it, is there shipping involved, is someone coming to pick it up? ... It's really just about, if anyone were ever to ask them, well, what do you do for this $60? How can you justify that, or are you basically just doing something completely egregious that you should be (inaudible)? So it just needs to be justifiable. We have 67 affiliates. ... At the end of the day, they're 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, you know, seems reasonable, they're happy to do it."

That's not exactly calculating or reimbursing actual costs, or ensuring any charge for the organs is strictly a break-even amount. One would think that an organization as large and scrutinized as Planned Parenthood would have protocols for its clinics to use in setting these kinds of prices, to ensure there's no room for confusion. But the concern, as relayed by Nucatola, seems to be only making the price "reasonable" so no one asks questions. The federal law banning fetal-tissue sales refers to "valuable consideration," so a legal question would be whether there's enough margin between the (apparently un-calculated) cost the clinic incurs and the "reasonable" price it charges to qualify as "valuable consideration."

The Center for Medical Progress says this video was just the first of a series of videos and documents it plans to release about organ sales by Planned Parenthood. Among them is this flyer it describes as "an advertisement to Planned Parenthood clinics" which refers to "financial profits" and carries an endorsement by a different Planned Parenthood doctor. That doesn't support the idea that charges for these "donations" are purely to cover costs.

(Screen grab of video by Center for Medical Progress)

As for the techniques involved, Nucatola describes some of the "effort that is allotted on their part":

"I'd say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they'll know where they're putting their forceps."

And:

"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."

Note that Planned Parenthood has fought proposed laws that would even require them to offer ultrasounds to women seeking abortions. There seems to be a different standard if there may be something in it for the clinic. Then there's this:

"The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is calvarium. Calvarium -- the head -- is basically the biggest part. ... And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it's not vertex (head-first). So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there's dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last step, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end."

That last bit -- said, as with the two preceding excerpts, as Nucatola ate her lunch -- describes a technique very similar to what's known as a partial-birth abortion. The federal law banning that procedure defines it as:

"An abortion in which the person performing the abortion, deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus." (emphasis added)

If that's not an outright admission Planned Parenthood clinics still engage in partial-birth abortions, it is, at a minimum, an acknowledgment that they come right up to the line of legality. It also makes you wonder how a non-human "clump of cells" could -- as early as nine weeks of development, according to the discussion on the video -- have human organs that needed to be kept intact to be scientifically useful.

Here's the full footage, in case you have almost three hours on your hands:


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.