Abortion

Second Planned Parenthood Exec Talks Fetal Tissue Donation in New Undercover Video

Activists pretended to be with a medical research firm called Biomax.

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Anti-abortion activists from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) have released a second video of undercover operatives talking with a Planned Parenthood executive about fetal tissue donation. In the latest video, Mary Gatter, an obstetrician and medical director at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, discusses how much money researchers from the faux-company Biomax will reimburse clinics for the "specimens," as well as how doctors could tweak the abortion procedure to keep fetal organs intact.

You can tell which parts of the video CMP thinks are especially damning because it replays them several times, with added sound and editing effects. In one such section, an actor posing as Biomax staff asks Gatter, "What would you expect for intact [fetal] tissue?" Gatter replies, "Well, why don't you start by telling me what you're used to paying?" After some back and forth, Gatter suggests "$75 a specimen." When the actor tells her "that's way too low," Gatter says that she was going to suggest $50, adding "we're not in it for the money." 

In text accompanying the video, CMP suggests that Gatter negotiating about reimbursement price—something the actors are encouraging her to do—proves she and Planned Parenthood are providing the fetal tissue to turn a profit, which would be illegal. Federal law prohibits the selling of human tissue and organs, though it doesn't ban donations, nor reasonable reimbursement for donation-related costs.

As many people have pointed out, the going price for black-market human organs is more than $100. The fact that Planned Parenthood only receives $30-$100 reimbursements, combined with the fact that staff repeatedly state (while unaware they're being filmed) that Planned Parenthood is not in it to turn a profit, should tell us that the payments clinics get from medical researchers are indeed within the limits of the law. 

"We believe a focal point of Biomax's efforts was to induce our affiliates to enter into sham procurement contracts," stated Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) senior counsel Roger Evans in a recent letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "In one instance, the amounts offered by Biomax were $100 per specimen. In another instance, Biomax offered to pay much more, sending the affiliate a 'procurement agreement' that offered a payment of $1,600 for a liver and thymus–an astronomical amount compared to the minimal cost-recovery fees that affiliates with tissue donation programs currently recoup. These efforts most often targeted Planned Parenthood affiliates not currently engaged in tissue donation. All of these efforts were rebuffed." 

The other "gotcha" CMP is trying to pin on Planned Parenthood relates to the way doctors perform abortions when fetal tissue is being donated, and there is somewhat more substance to this tack.

In both the Gatter video and the one CMP released last week (featuring Planned Parenthood's Director of Medical Services, Deborah Nucatola), staff indicate that doctors could take greater care not to crush fetal organs when they know they're being donated, and this might necessitate performing the abortion in a different way.  But on the consent form women who request to donate fetal tissue sign, Planned Parenthood says "there will be no changes to how or when my abortion is done in order to get my blood or the tissue." Federal law states that "no alteration in the timing or method of abortion" is permitted for purposes of fetal tissue collection, so CMP alleges that Planned Parenthood is breaking federal law.

Two things to keep in mind: 1) Gatter didn't say clinic doctors are altering abortion methods in order to get intact tissue, merely (when pressed by the undercover actors) that they could do so, and 2) we are talking about practices (and reimbursement prices) for individual Planned Parenthood clinics, not the organization as a whole. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood clinics do not even do fetal tissue donation. In the video released today, Gatter is only talking about procedures for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

Here's what she says: 

Let me explain to you a little bit of a problem, which may not be a big problem. If our usual technique is suction, at 10 to 12 weeks, and we switch to using [a manual vacuum aspirator] or something with less suction to increase the odds that it will come out as an intact specimen, then we're kind of violating the protocol that says to the patient, "We're not doing anything different in our care of you."

Now to me, that's kind of a specious little argument and I wouldn't object to asking Ian to use [manual vacuum aspiration] at that gestational age in order to increase the odds that he's going to get an intact specimen, but I do need to throw it out there as a concern. … I think they're both totally appropriate techniques, there's no difference in pain involved.

Gatter eventually says she'll "mention this to Ian and see how he feels." 

Does this prove Planned Parenthood Los Angles is breaking the law? No, as there's no indication that changing methods to accomodate tissue donation is something docs have done, just something they might be willing to do. At most, Gatter has admitted that her clinics are open to skirting the rules. Rules, I might add, that seem rather arbitrary when the two methods are similar in safety and effects (though for purposes of informed consent, any changes to standard procedure should be discussed with a patient). 

For its part, Planned Parenthood is allegeing that CMP may have broken California privacy law and federal tax law

"At this point, we do not know the full extent of Biomax's illicit conduct," wrote Evans in his letter to Congress. "We believe that on at least one occasion a representative from Biomax was shown a highly sensitive area in a clinic where tissue is processed after abortion procedures. While this work is standard and essential during any abortion procedure, any filming in such an area would be an extremely serious invasion of our patients' privacy and dignity. We also believe that in at least one interaction at a Planned Parenthood facility, the Biomax representative asked questions about the racial characteristics of tissue donated to researchers studying sickle cell anemia, apparently seeking to create a misleading impression."

Correction: The Center for Medical Progress in question is not, as previously stated, the same Center for Medical Progress affiliated with the Manhattan Institute.