The Planned Parenthood Debate

In the second Republican presidential debate (Sept. 16), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina took on Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that receives approximately $500 million in federal funds each year.

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

Let’s begin with the key questions:

Is the video Fiorina describes real?

Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post fact-checker writes (Sept. 17), “No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility.”

Politifact writes (Sept. 17), “Fiorina’s claim makes it sound like there is actual footage of Planned Parenthood examining an aborted fetus whose heart is still beating, while someone says ‘we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ There isn’t.

“One of the Center for Medical Progress’ videos attacking Planned Parenthood shows an interview with a woman identified as a former tissue procurement technician, who tells about an experience in a Planned Parenthood pathology lab where she sees a fetus outside the womb with its heart still beating.

“According to the woman, her supervisor said they would procure the fetus’ brain. The video’s creators added footage of an aborted fetus on what appears to be an examination table, and its legs are moving. But Fiorina makes it sound as if the footage shows what Planned Parenthood is alleged to have done. In fact, the stock footage was added to the video to dramatize its content.”

FactCheck.org writes (Sept. 22), “Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace asked if [Fiorina] would acknowledge ‘what every fact checker has found,’ that the scene was only described but was not visible in the video. She refused to do so.”

Fiorina, Sept. 20: “No, I don’t accept that at all. I’ve seen the footage. And I find it amazing, actually, that all these supposed fact checker in the mainstream media claim this doesn’t exist. They’re trying to attack the authenticity of the videotape. I haven’t found a lot of people in the mainstream media who’ve ever watched these things. I mean, they will claim somebody watched it for them. I will continue to dare anyone who wants to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, watch the videotapes.”

“We have watched every video,” FactCheck.org maintains, “released by the Center for Medical Progress. One video — titled ‘Human Capital,’ Episode 3, contains one short clip that does feature a fetus with ‘its legs kicking’ (at the 5:57 mark). But the footage was not shot by the Center for Medical Progress, and there is no indication where the video was taken or for what purpose. The video contains a description of such a scene, as told by interviewee Holly O’Donnell, listed as a former employee of the tissue procurement company StemExpress. We cannot verify whether any or all of her description is accurate. …

“Fiorina is entitled to her opinion,” FactCheck.org adds, “on whether Planned Parenthood deserves federal funding. But combining an unsupported anecdote with unrelated footage does not add up to the scene she has repeatedly claims exists on video.”

Is any procedure, as described by Fiorina, sanctioned by Planned Parenthood?

On July 17, Politifact examined this issue.

“Posing as a biological tissue procurement company, actors for the Center for Medical Progress secretly filmed a luncheon with Planned Parenthood’s senior director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola in 2014. On July 14, 2015, the group released a nine-minute video that they say shows Nucatola talking about performing partial-birth abortions to keep body parts intact in order to ‘sell’ them, an action which the video alleges is a felony. …

“Many, including Planned Parenthood, have said the video was heavily edited and is misleading. They say Nucatola was discussing a standard, legal procedure for providing fetal tissue for scientific research, for which clinics are often reimbursed for costs associated with procuring the tissue (as opposed to selling tissue for a profit). …

“It’s clear in the full-length video that Nucatola believes she is speaking with representatives from a company that provides scientific researchers with tissue from aborted fetuses (a legal process that raises difficult ethical questions). She describes the process of getting consent from patients, as well as how Planned Parenthood clinics typically interacts with the companies that take the tissue from the clinics to the researchers.

“The edited video shows Nucatola discussing a per-specimen price range for tissue parts. But the full video shows that the cost under discussion is a reimbursement for the cost of preparing the specimens for transfer, not the value of the specimens themselves. She adds that Planned Parenthood needs to be able to explain exactly what the funds are used for.

“Nucatola said: ‘I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a nonprofit, 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 seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that. Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.

‘No one’s going to see this as a money-making thing. The other reason affiliates think this is a good thing is, it’s less tissue that they need to worry about, it’s taken care of. They have to do something with that tissue, it’s hard to find somebody that wants to do something with that tissue, so the fact that there’s somebody that’s looking for that tissue is — that is such a huge service to them.’

“Nucatola says throughout the luncheon that Planned Parenthood is not interested in making a profit off the specimens — an interpretation the edited video pushes. ‘(Clinics) want to do this, but they want to do it in a way that’s not going to impact them, and it’s much, much less about money. You could call them up and say, “I’ll pay you double the money,” and they’re almost more inclined to say no, because it’s going to look bad. … To them, this is not a service they should be making money from, it’s something they should be able to offer this to their patients, in a way that doesn’t impact them.”

Glenn Kessler adds, “…the third ‘Human Capital’ episode [referenced above by FactCheck.org] of secretly taped videos by the Center for Medical Progress includes a disturbing interview with a technician at a biotechnology company that had partnered with Planned Parenthood affiliates in California to purchase aborted fetus parts.

“Holly O’Donnell, the technician, said she witnessed a scene similar to Fiorina’s description, but it is not actually shown. A supervisor ‘just taps the heart, and it starts beating. And I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think,’ she says. ‘She gave me the scissors and told me that I had to cut down the middle of the face [to get to the brain]. I can’t even describe what that feels like.’

“There are images of a fetus intercut with her narrative, at about the 6 minute mark, but there is little evidence this is a fetus about to be harvested. (The source of the video is listed as the Grantham Collection, which collects stock footage of abortions.) …”

In an update, Kessler adds, “The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform told The Federalist that it had supplied the video and that it ‘depicted an intact delivery abortion’ at an abortion clinic. The Fact Checker received a similar statement from Gregg Cunningham, the group’s executive director, who said the group was ‘in the process of retrieving the original video.’ ”

Nonetheless, while some clinics do offer aborted fetal tissue for research, there is no evidence to suggest that Planned Parenthood sells organs — as suggested by Fiorina — or fetal tissue beyond recouping modest costs. Further, according to the Center for Medical Progress’ own inside source, the sale is legal and done with the consent of the patient.

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