No, Planned Parenthood wasn’t caught on video ‘selling dead baby parts’

Planned Parenthood

Photo by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

An extended version of the video tells a different tale.

An undercover video released on Monday of a Planned Parenthood official is making waves among conservative politicians and anti-abortion activists.

The video, filmed by a group called Center for Medical Progress, was secretly recorded at a restaurant by a man and a woman posing as reps for a fetal tissue collection center. In it, Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, is seen sipping red wine while discussing procedures used by abortion doctors to preserve fetal tissue and organs.

Arizona Sen. John McCain took to Twitter on Monday afternoon to spread an article featured on the conservative website Daily Caller, which characterized the video as evidence that Planned Parenthood “[sells] the body parts of aborted babies, in some cases using an illegal partial-birth abortion procedure.” An article by the Blaze, a website founded by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, claimed that Nucatola had been “caught on tape selling the body parts of aborted children.”

For almost three decades, Planned Parenthood has been permitted under federal law to donate… the organs and tissues of aborted fetuses

As shocking as these reports may sound, the controversy stirred by the activists’ so-called “sting” operation is unlikely to yield any federal indictments. That’s because, for almost three decades, Planned Parenthood has been permitted under federal law to donate the organs and tissues of aborted fetuses, with the permission of abortion patients, to legitimate research facilities. Moreover, federal law permits abortion clinics to collect reimbursement fees due to costs associated with these donations.

“Every provider has patients who want to donate their tissue, and they want to accommodate them,” Nucatola told the undercover activists, unaware that was she was being recorded. “They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as: This clinic is selling tissue. This clinic is making money off this. In the Planned Parenthood world, they’re very, very sensitive to that.” She goes on to say that some Planned Parenthood affiliates prefer not to be reimbursed, and if they do, the figure has to “look like a reasonable number.”

“OK, so, when you are—or when the affiliate is—determining what that monetary… So that it doesn’t raise the question of… ‘This is what it’s about…’—What price range would you…?” one of the undercover activists in the video asks Nucatola.

“You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved,” she responds. “It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there that’s going to be doing everything… is there shipping involved? Is someone going to be there to pick it up?”

Nucatola is then heard describing how fetal organs are collected during a surgical evacuation procedure, common for second-trimester abortions. “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,” she says.

The video shared by the Daily Caller and others was clearly edited; however, it wasn’t apparent how edited until the “full footage,” a video nearly 2.5 hours longer, was released Monday afternoon. Nucatola’s conversation in the full clip appears less like the black market organ sale depicted by conservative websites, and more like a discussion with two individuals who presented themselves as employees of a legitimate medical company.

In the longer version, Nucatola describes how human embryonic cells—those voluntarily donated by Planned Parenthood’s patients—are used in medical research that may one day lead to a cure for degenerative neurological diseases, brain tumors, and spinal cord injuries. 

“In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed.”

She further explains the purpose of the lawful cost-reimbursement: “We really just want that to be reasonable for the impact it has on the clinic. This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at, this is a way to offer patients the services they want and do good for the medical community and still maintain access.”

“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,” Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications, said in a statement. “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,” Ferrero added. “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.”

Planned Parenthood characterized the Center for Medical Progress—not to be confused with the Manhattan Institute scientific center by the same name—as a “well funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services.”

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Republican presidential candidates jumped on the scandal—issuing statements Monday afternoon condemning Planned Parenthood. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal went one further, ordering the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals to launch an investigation. 

“Today’s video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing the systematic harvesting and trafficking of human body parts is shocking and gruesome,” said Jindal.

 A spokesperson for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told the Daily Dot that a Congressional investigation is “absolutely” needed. “Sen. Cruz has supported defunding [Planned Parenthood] in the past and still believes an organization that profits off of aborting babies has no business receiving taxpayer dollars,” the spokesperson said. 

Photo via Fibonacci Blue/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.