The National Catholic Review

Updated: At the bottom of the original text, I have appended a response to commenters who read this post as a defense of Planned Parenthood.

Editor's Note: Yesterday I posted a blog about the initial news regarding a controversial video involving a Planned Parenthood official, in which I raised questions about the editing of the video. Since then, some readers, here and on social media, have continued to debate the way the video was presented. So, once time permitted, I reviewed the unedited footage.

The full, unedited undercover video of the conversation between Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood and the actors from the Center for Medical Progress about obtaining fetal tissue from abortions and the transcript posted on C.M.P.’s site tell a different—but no less troubling—story than the one that has been covered in most of the news pieces about this issue.

C.M.P. promoted the story, and titled the video, as “Planned Parenthood uses partial-birth abortion to sell baby parts.” That title is, by any fair standard, wildly misleading. Within the longer video Dr. Nucatola explains that affiliated clinics understand tissue donation “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.” In other words, the concern of the abortion clinics is not profit, but enabling fetal tissue collection or donation in a way that does not make their procedures more difficult and might make them easier. The most damning admission about money in the entire video is not quoting a price-per-specimen, but rather the admission that clinics “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.” Even if interpreted uncharitably, this is a far cry from “selling” tissue from abortions.

Similarly, the fuller context of the video makes it clear that the very troubling discussion of how an abortion procedure can be managed to preserve viable desired tissue and organs is preceded by the insistence, due to ethical concerns, that the basic procedure cannot be changed to accommodate the collection of tissue: “kind of ethically I don’t think [abortion providers] want to do [change or prolong the abortion procedure], they basically want to treat the patient as they would any other, and again, it’s just the disposition of the tissue.” However, she also explains that “ if I know what [the tissue collection company is] looking for, I’ll just keep it in the back of my mind, and try to at least keep that part intact.”

What keeping it in the back of the mind turns out to mean, in further discussion, is to choose which parts of the fetal body to crush, in which order, to avoid destroying valuable tissue. It also turns out to mean—for some providers, though Dr. Nucatola does not admit doing this herself—inverting the unborn child to breech position so that the body itself will continue to dilate the cervix during the procedure, thus maximizing the chances that the head and the fetal brain can be extracted without being destroyed.

Among the long stretches of conversation entirely edited out of the short version of the video is Dr. Nucatola’s moving explanation of how she ended up focusing her practice as a physician on abortion, which starts around 2:10 in the full video:

And on that day [at the end of her gynecology residency], there was patient that was transferred to me, from an outside clinic, who had had a D&E, dilation and evacuation, late second trimester abortion, she was bleeding. That patient was transferred to me and she got to the hospital and I met her in the emergency room and I saw her and she was as white as this napkin, and I still remember her name, I remember everything about her, and she looked up at me, and she said, “Don’t let me die.” And she actually bled to death. We did a hysterectomy in about twelve minutes and she died. It was very distressing and very upsetting. I probably had a very different reaction than most people would, which was well I do D&Es all the time, and I don’t ever have complications. And I think I’m pretty good at them, I need to keep making sure that there are lots of people doing these D&Es safely so there’s not another patient like this. That was the day I said I’m not doing perinatology, which is high-risk OB, I’m going to do family planning, and I’m going to train others to do family planning.

What has been obscured by C.M.P.’s editing of the video for maximum impact—and what is almost always obscured in any public discussion of abortion—is that virtually no one on either side of the abortion debate has motives as demonic as their opponents would like. What is most tragic about Dr. Nucatola’s story, from a pro-life perspective, is that her grief for the patient she lost pointed her to providing less risky abortions, rather than to questioning abortion itself; that her compassion for the dying mother could not extend to the child the abortion had already killed.

Unfortunately, the way C.M.P. positioned this video, describing as “sales” something that is considerably more complicated, has simply reinforced, for many, the pro-choice narrative about pro-life activists: unscrupulous, dishonest players willing to do anything necessary in order to control and limit women’s access to abortion. The video’s revelations about the very matter-of-fact way in which fetal tissue from abortions is treated as a resource rather than human remains—and the way in which the women seeking abortions come to be seen as potential sources of these rare and valuable tissues—were more than troubling enough without being carefully sensationalized.

Our discussions about abortion would be in a better place if we could, as a society, be moved to be troubled about the disposition of fetal remains without having to be outraged by a carefully edited video. One of the reasons that we are not there, of course, is that defending abortion requires and encourages seeing the fetus as something undeserving of our concern, until we are finally shocked enough to take a second look.

C.M.P.’s edited version of the video, not to mention the undercover sting operation itself, is in many respects deeply unfair. Nonetheless, we do not need to defend the video’s production in order to be—properly and appropriately—shocked that a physician can discuss how best to harvest fetal tissue without ever appearing to be troubled by the fact that the fetus is human.

Updated in response to comments (July 16, 2015, 10:30 am):

A number of people in the comments here, and more on social media, have suggested that I am defending Planned Parenthood in this post. To my mind, that’s an inaccurate reading of this post itself, but the situation has been made worse by the fact that it seems that some people have not read my first post on this story, also linked at the top of the page, in which I more obviously critiqued Planned Parenthood.

To be clear, then: I believe abortion is obviously wrong and the harvesting of tissues from the bodies of aborted babies is abhorrent, and, needless to say, I don’t believe any defense is possible for Planned Parenthood’s participation in these practices.

C.M.P.’s video, however, accused Planned Parenthood of the illegal sale of human tissue, alongside citations from the relevant federal law. It seems that the only way they were able to do so was through selective editing of the conversation; a viewing of the unedited footage convinced me that while Dr. Nucatola was eager to help in obtaining tissue, she was not focused on profit or sales potential. Her motivations, at least as she described them, were more about enabling patients and clinics to feel that they were accomplishing something seemingly good after the abortions.

As this story unfolds and investigations are conducted, we may get more information about how deeply Planned Parenthood is involved in the financial arrangements made by the companies that collect tissue from abortions. At the moment, based on the evidence made available in the unedited footage, Planned Parenthood appears to be trying to assist in the process of procuring fetal tissue, but careful to remain outside anything that could be described as a “sale.” While it may be possible they are only superficially disguising something that is a sale, we are not at this point entitled to assume the worst merely because we distrust Planned Parenthood.

As I said in the post, our opponents in these debates rarely have motivations as wholly bad as we would think. In this case, in my judgment, the Planned Parenthood representative seems not to be a profit-seeking monster, but rather someone who has so thoroughly dehumanized the unborn child as to be able to consider it as a source to be dismantled for parts. That’s more than bad enough.

The problem with how C.M.P. edited the video is that it has helped convince many pro-choice people that pro-life activists are unscrupulous and dishonest. If we believe that we are called to help people come to see the truth, rather than just to provoke outrage, then we can’t accept this video uncritically. Nor can we accept Planned Parenthood’s defense uncritically. What we can do is watch the whole video and be honest about what we see. Only after that can we start making judgments about how to respond.

Sam Sawyer, S.J., is an associate editor at America.


Charles McNamee | 7/24/2015 - 6:33pm

In the plains of Africa, when an animal dies, flies come and lay eggs upon it. The hatched larvae (maggots) from those hatched eggs eat the flesh of the dead animal. Hyenas come and work at eating the remains as well and buzzards circle overhead and land to get a piece of the action. Eventually dry bones are left to ultimately be worn to dust which becomes part of the soil from which plants grow. Those plants get eaten by animals who ultimately die etc…etc…

Nothing is wrong with this process. It is natural. So too when a human dies, his body returns to the natural “dust” whether quickly into the earth or very slowly in a sealed tomb. There is nothing evil about this happening, despite all our attempts to prevent it from happening.

Where evil comes in is where we interrupt the man’s life by unlawfully killing him.

This is where the Supreme Court of the United States has come in to rule that some killings are not in themselves evil. Capital punishment for certain crimes is lawful, so increasingly is assisted suicide in many places and situations, and so too is abortion, if the woman so chooses, without regard to any rights to continued life the baby within her might have. Now since the law allows this, the law is now being asked to decide what may or may not happen with the corpse after death. May body parts be sold for scientific use and is there some kind of “morality” involved in what can be done with these parts?

It seems the door was opened when the law determined that the life of a person can be taken “for sufficient reason”. The law no longer says that blacks , women and minorities are less than full persons who cannot be owned or used by others to their own advantage, but has failed to extend those rights to the unborn child.
It is most disconcerting to realize that a majority of the public are horrified by the profitable distribution of aborted fetus parts, yet feel quite comfortable with PP and with the Supreme Court’s decisions to grant “personhood” to corporations, yet deny it to future children.

A person is not determined to be such by its exterior, but by its interior. Its interior includes the God given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A person has these rights from conception, not from when they reach the age of being able to defend themselves, nor from birth. As the earliest Gospel has as Jesus' keynote address: "The present moment is the right time, change the way you think for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you. Believe this good news."[Mk.1:15-16]

Its time for the USA to "change the way it thinks."

Vincent Gaglione | 7/24/2015 - 9:06am

Maybe this has nothing to do with the topic at hand, or maybe it does, but I personally find the predominant proportion of male responders to female responders to the article quite fascinating and perhaps telling.

Bill Mazzella | 7/23/2015 - 12:45pm


Your update is sound and place the matter in perspective in a fair way. You have shown that you are looking at things fairly and not coloring them with your own views on the subject. Thank you for that. It is rare on both sides of the issue.

Sam Sawyer | 7/23/2015 - 3:53pm

Thank you for taking the time to read both carefully, and especially for this comment.

Sam Sawyer | 7/21/2015 - 1:32pm

C.M.P. just released a second undercover video this morning; I've got a blog post up taking a look at that.

J Cosgrove | 7/21/2015 - 10:59am

This story is interesting from a lot of perspectives.

One is the lack of coverage and what coverage there is how it is skewed. See

The author compares the lack of coverage of this incident vs. the swarm over the confederate flag just a month before. And offers up a couple dozen story lines that the press are not pursuing.

Here is an article about how the talking points from the PR firm hired by Planned Parenthood were distributed.

If anyone is interested in the politics of this, here is a web article from 4 years ago on the funding of Planned Parenthood.

Obviously with a point of view.

Mitch McConnell is under pressure to defund Planned Parenthood. Here is one article on a possible future vote on funding and another about McConnell

Brian Sean | 7/17/2015 - 5:48pm

Just a note:
I think it’s healthy to make sure our tactics are above par morally, & not devoid of charity:
But at times it looks like we are sifting for a morality in an immoral apparatus;
I think we can easily compare this with the language used against abolitionists struggles to end slavery noting that the comparison between the Slave industry & the Abortion Industry to be one of the more appropriate comparisons that are in these kinds public debates.

Brian Sean | 7/17/2015 - 5:22pm

I think Fr. Sam's critique of Pro-Life tactics should be put in parallel with those used by the media to end the Vietnam War; it might provide some historical perspective as well as assist us in avoiding the kind of clean language tactics employed by Nazi Germany once they had embraced immoral premises and intrinsic evil as a norm in their culture.

It seems Fr. Sam's point, about validating Pro-Choice narratives against Pro-Life people is fairly mute, meaning, how we are perceived should be low on our priorities while how we act should be paramount. As far as C.M.P. being sensational or dishonest in their presentation I am not convinced that their emphasis on sales is all that far off though all the evidence might not be in, but the Dr. overall moral makeup does not seem to suggest she would be opposed to it but that her interest lies in other places.

Considering how things are so easily swept under the rug or white washed, how Pro-life concerns and investigations are eclipsed not only from the Official Media but from the Public Forum over all, means that the kind of sensationalism that put pressure on political leaders to end Vietnam could be very justified in this case.

The issue of false representation that is demonizing ones opponent so that they are seen as evil should not be seen as the kind of 'name calling' in which one passively removes someones humanity like Kraut, Jap, Wap, fetus etc; So the question becomes, when does someones act become evil, does it require the mind of a Snidely Whiplash or can indifference, self-interest, & an imbalance in ones moral character qualify as being called evil.

My passing question to Fr. Sam would be, is your view of evil that it is more than just a political tool to sway people, what kind of working concept of evil are your functioning from? It might not be loving from today standards to tell someone that they are participating in evil, but sometimes truth is the only non-enabling possibility.

Personally I find Fr. Sam's soft touch reminiscent of the kind of behavior that persisted against a growing body of evidence that I noted when studying WWII, the Holocaust, & German Culture during the rise & fall of the Nazi's. My allusion is limited to a language that assumes that the parties in question are playing according common rules and that nothing serious is at stake. My Jewish professor when asking the question of why didn't the Jewish community just leave Germany" said, (beyond -where would they go) that they could not conceive of what the Nazi's were capable of doing. My point is, evil was there in the Nazi language but no one wanted to hear or believe; the language remained clean & unchallenged.

Charles McNamee | 7/17/2015 - 1:21pm

The majority of the members of the U.S,Supreme Court apparently no longer consider each and every person to be a sacred reality, and that sacredness does not accrue to the person because of some measurable, observable physical characteristic, but rather to what they possess interiorly, and from conception. Perhaps this cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted; nor imagined nor conceived of; it has to be believed. The sacredness of a person is God given, just as are the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". To deny God's existence is to deny the source of these gifts and the very rights these gifts require.

Thus, living in a society in which the majority do not believe in God, allows a democratic vote to determine what is right and what is wrong. Although presently in this country most seem to be silent on this issue, Christians cannot be. The unborn child has every right as does the born child and the adult, i.e., to not have its life taken away from it, whether by abortion, nor by infanticide, nor by execution. We all have the right to live long enough to correct our bad behavior and repent of having committed sins, even those convicted by law and scheduled for execution, whether in democratic nations or in despotic ones.

Why must one believe? For us, it is because of the witness of the one who is absolutely trustworthy. That witness has as recorded in the first words placed upon his lips in the earliest of the Gospels where we read:
"He came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news from God, saying, the present moment is the right time, change the way you think about reality for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you. Believe THIS good news."
[Mk 1:14-16]

Douglas Reed | 7/17/2015 - 9:27am

When speaking of the atrocities of Nazi Germany exterminating Jews, I find it hard to worry about being "wildly misleading" when speaking of what the Nazis did with the body parts.

Crystal Watson | 7/16/2015 - 11:23pm

If pro-life people did want to change the minds/hearts of pro-choice people, they'd have to address a few issues .....
- the fact that pro-choice people are *not* all secular. Most are probably religious, like President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
- the fact that probably the best way to lower abortion rates is through cheap and easy access to effective contraception ... why then are pro-life people against contraception?
- the fact that those getting abortions matter too, from women like Savita Halappanavar who died in Ireland because she couldn't get an abortion, to the 10 year old rape victim in Paraguay who's being denied an abortion though doctors say her life is endangered.

THOMAS FARRELLY | 7/23/2015 - 8:02pm

What evidence do you have that pro-life people are against contraception? Do you have any source for that contention?
I know many pro-life people and they are not against contraception. That's mere anecdote of course but it makes me wonder what basis you have for the statement. The only survey I'm aware of dealing with the question of Catholics and contraception showed that more than 90% of Catholic women have practiced contraception at some time in their lives. I can't vouch for its accuracy nor do I know whether it was peer-reviewed.
Again I have no statistics, but no priest that I know considers contraception sinful. Nor have I ever heard a sermon on the subject. Have you?
If you have any reliable statistics on the percent of pro-life people who oppose contraception, kindly let us know.

Joe Kash | 7/17/2015 - 8:30am

I agree Crystal but the converse is that pro-abortion/choice people need to reconcile their position with the fact that they are dismembering a human life; crushing its skull, crushing its limbs, etc.

Robert Lannan | 7/16/2015 - 8:38pm

Fr. Sawyer,

In the update your post, you state that it should be “obvious” that abortion is wrong and that there should be no “need[ ] to say” that Planned Parenthood’s activities are indefensible. I am reminded of Pope Francis’ statement in his famous interview in America magazine that “[t]he teaching of the church” on abortion “is clear” and that it is therefore “not necessary to talk about thi[is] issue[ ] all the time.”

The problem is that while these facts may be obvious to some people (certainly including most priests), to many others they are not as obvious. Our society has grown very accepting of abortion, to the point where reportedly one in three American women procure this procedure at some point during their lives, and 95% of them never regret the decision. Even late-term abortions are no longer rare. In the now-infamous video, Dr. Nucatola mentions having performed eight of them herself during the previous day. The cavalier tone with which she described, while sipping red wine and eating her salad, how she and other medical doctors aim their forceps to crush a fetuses in a way that preserves their organs for donation shows just how callous some have become to this practice. Her words lend support to St. Pope John Paul II’s warning that the West had adopted a “culture of death.”

So, how are Catholics supposed to respond today—20 years after John Paul II issued that warning—when still over a million abortions performed annually in the United States alone? Are we still supposed to oppose it? Well, it doesn’t help John Paul II’s cause when a priest equivocates in articles in a Catholic magazine with a statement suggesting that elective abortion may be morally licit if it is “purely about reproductive choice” and not a “means to a larger and grislier end,” or that any explanation of a practitioner of late-term abortion for her selection of that occupation can somehow be “moving” in a positive way. It doesn’t help when, a week earlier, the same magazine suggests that those who speak out against abortion are engaged in a “cultural warfare” that we should abandon now that “it is increasingly clear that those who believe that the civil law ought to reflect and codify traditional Judeo-Christian values have lost not just these most recent battles but the war itself.” Statements like these lead some to wonder whether the Church is still pro-life, at least in the same way today as in the past.

Some of us, in response to the chilling statements Dr. Nucatola made in that video, want to alert our communities that we need to wake up and respond to something deeply wrong that is going on all around us every day, and that we should do something to stop it. But we can’t. We have to be polite and not raise such uncomfortable subjects. (Only one of over 200 mostly Catholic friends on my Facebook list has dared post anything on the video . . . that is, from a pro-life perspective.) Our Pope has even warned that we should not “obsess” over these matters. So we don’t bring them up. It would just be unseemly. And very uncomfortable. And besides, you might not get invited to as many social occasions if you’re perceived to be one of THOSE people.

#$%@ it. I’m going to say something. Abortion—especially late term abortion—is deeply wrong. It kills other human beings, whose lives we should nurture and cherish as members of our own human communities. We should show them as much respect as each of us reading this website was shown during the first 9 months of our own lives. It is wrong that we give these members of our own human species less protection, under law and in our culture, than we do to members of many other species. The Church—even in Jesuit circles--should state this unequivocally. We should talk about this problem and encourage change. And I don’t care how party invitations I miss out on for having said so.

Bob Lannan
Potomac, Maryland

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 9:13pm

Thank you for your comment. I agree that we should speak out about abortion being wrong. That's the main reason I posted about this issue, both times, and in the update.

I wish that when we speak out about it in reference to this video we didn't have to first explain why the video was edited the way it was, and could instead focus on the horror of tissue harvesting from aborted babies.

Some aspects of my posts attempted to explain why, even from a staunchly pro-choice viewpoint, the revelations in the video should be troubling. It's unfortunate that attempting to speak to people who have that viewpoint seems to have convinced some people that I share it.

Robert Lannan | 7/16/2015 - 10:37pm

Well, I do thank you for several statements you made--especially in your first post--to condemn abortion and encourage change. It takes courage to make any pro-life statement today, especially if you live and work in an affluent, well-educated community in the Northeast. I don't doubt that your beliefs or sincerity. What discourages me is when Jesuits--up to and including the Pope himself--make statements on abortion that are well-intentioned but easily misinterpreted. In his interview in your magazine, the Holy Father said we should not "obsess" over abortion. A few paragraphs earlier, he said the Church should abandon "small-minded rules." The two statements were undoubtedly not intended to be connected, but that is exactly how the secular media interpreted and reported them. I'm sure you heard about NARAL Pro-Choice America's tweet the following day:"Dear Pope Francis, Thank you. Signed, Pro-choice women everywhere." When it comes to the Church's position on human life issues, there is too much at stake for a priest to seem equivocal or lend himself to misinterpretation. This does not require intellectual dishonesty--just clarity.

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 8:38pm

For anyone happening along to this piece for the first time, or returning to it, who may be interested in or concerned by how the discussion in the comments has developed, I'd like to recommend Mark Shea's very perceptive piece over at his blog.

Gabriel Syme | 7/17/2015 - 10:55am

Thanks, I understand your take a bit better after reading Mark Shea's post as well.

I still think it is unrealistic to think that the facts and information from just the full length video alone would have been enough to get this information in front of as many people as it has this week with the edited "highlight" video. Neither Mark's or your article considers our culture's second by second attention span.

The idea that getting the information using the process of misrepresentation completely works against the ProLife movement while only filling the PP pockets may have some merit, but to think an organization greasing palms all the way up to the white house, that says "God bless PP", is just going to change their mind and hand over or acknowledge inportant facts like those in the video is naive at best. Is it a bad idea for the ProLife movement to stoop to their level with our tactics, yes, but if that is how you choose to associate how the video was created then informants wearing wires and undercover police (aka to some as Noble Liars) are deceiving criminals, prostitutes, pimps and the like unfairly daily and we need to find better way to change their minds about the crimes (moral, legal, etc...) they are committing.

I completely agree that it is necessary to be compassionate and work to change minds in the ways you and others describe in the other comments. However in my opinion to basically and pretty much completely write off the full and edited videos impact or potential due to the acquisition tactics can be just as counter productive as what you and Mark imply in your perspectives. While PP, their supporters and the water-carrier that is most of the media responds they mostly likely share your posts, and they might just share highlights that seem to fit their position since they know most people on any side are unlikely going to go read either of your full length articles and updates.

I genuinely wonder if the recently launched investigations at state and federal levels would exist now or ever with just the full length Noble Lie (to some) video?

How about the idea of trying to find a way to maintain the legitimate value of facts that are acknowledged, by all on the ProLife side, to being there in something like or similar to the video(s) and work together before or after the presentation to learn from a situation to possibly better deliver the message rather then help to diminish and or write off the possibilities of the message on behalf of those that we all are actually trying to help change the minds of?

Just look here how much time isn't going towards working on changing minds when we shoot ourselves, and the ProLife cause, in the foot rather than utilizing what is maybe to some imperfectly now there and not working to learn and improve the next delivery of useful important facts. I know, I know, the edited video was our first un-redeemable foot wound that in this comment arena a Catholic priest and an awesome, well known and respected Catholic blogger couldn't find better recourse out of the PP/ProChoice eye to help improve similar future instances.

For the record, I believe you are a well intention-ed ProLifer like the rest of us Fr. Sawyer.

Thanks for your time and have a nice weekend.

William Rydberg | 7/17/2015 - 10:39am


In my opinion the comments I made earlier about automatic "passes" on content in America Magazine stand. This seems me to be amply manifested by the attached comments, especially given this Associate Editor's characterization of "very perceptive piece" and then using the words as a hyperlink!

I find this excerpt taken from the linked document as being in my opinion fishy, if not a lot self serving of Sam Sawyer:

"...But my near-certain suspicion after reading the America piece is that it will shown that no felony has occurred and that they will be exonerated ...."

Crystal Watson | 7/16/2015 - 4:47pm

I was a volunteer at a Planned Parenthood one summer in college, answering phoned-in questions about contraception. The place isn't some kind of abortion conveyor belt staffed with monsters, it's a low cost women's health clinic where people without much money can get gyn exams, cancer screening, prenatal care, contraception, and also abortions.

Janet A. | 7/16/2015 - 3:15pm

Very Interesting. So, suppose some one knows a woman that was born with a condition that predisposes her to have a very short fuse, and who can only experience pleasure when a she kills a man that is trying to rape her. Now, she hates doing such thing, but she cannot help it, she was born that way, and she is as equally entitled to experience pleasure in this life as any one else. besides, she is only killing rapists, so she should actually be thought of as a modern day hero. And she only kills them after she knocks them unconscious, so technically they are not human because they are not conscious of themselves, or their surroundings. Plus it was a compassionate death because the victims didn't feel a thing and they were freed from their misery of being a rapist.

So the person that knows this woman is heading a genetics research and investigation project, and strikes a deal with this woman in order to buy human parts from her victims in order to conduct this research, which he is doing in oder to create a gene that will enable mankind to be born with an antibody for cancer. So he is not only curing cancer, he is making it impossible for humans to ever get cancer again. But he is buying human body parts, and from a murderer. But lets not focus on what her crime makes her, because that is unkind and we would be chauvinists. Rather, lets focus on the fact that it is a huge injustice to her to have been born that way. And lets not focus on the man buying human body parts (not willingly donated by the person to whom they belonged), lets focus rather on the fact that he is doing this to help humankind. And lets not focus on the woman selling these body parts, for she is not selling them for profit; that would be awful! Lets focus on the fact that she is selling those parts to help orphan girls...

What a pretty picture warped by the use of nice words... it does not change one bit the horror of the crimes in all cases! These is true of the story above too, and I cannot believe that something such as this article, nor someone such as the author under the banner of "Catholic" is trying to make light of this issue, and make it sound like it is unkind to Dr. Nucatola and what Planned Parenthood is doing through abortion clinics, as well as abortion itself.

Let us remember that throughout the entire history of the human race, the most barbaric thing a ruler could do to oppress a nation would be the massive killing of infants. It was the most inhumane act possible! How dark have our minds gotten that now that history repeats itself, it's been done no other than by the parents themselves, willingly... And we call ourselves "evolved" and "enlightened" when in fact we are more barbaric and savage than generations past.

Tim Reidy | 7/17/2015 - 4:19pm

Please use full names as per our policy.

William Rydberg | 7/16/2015 - 2:57pm

Then I'll try submitting this again...


When I read this, was my first reaction.

Then I thought about it and was not surprised, because I realized that the Author is a member of the Society of Jesus, who happens to be well connected enough to get things published practically without much of the rigour associated with outside submissions, and in my opinion, critical editorial review (except perhaps for spelling). This practice, in my opinion of saying anything in the pages of America and getting a “pass” seems like a “right” of certain privileged members of the America Staff-and it works like a kind of “tenure” is one is actually a Priest of the Society! It likely has a lot to do with the American practices of the Society implemented decades ago and stretching back to the early days when guys like Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. was in his prime. Interestingly, his Cause is being considered, but the Society is not the Sponsor (he was on the outs with the in Crowd)! As an aside, I would like to know the number of formal and informal submissions to America of Fr Hardon’s S.J. that were rejected over the years?

To conclude, elements of this article, in my opinion, read as though it were a highly desirable redeemable christian trait to “cover expenses”.

In my opinion, this article is the equivalent of a fly’s perspective after landing on a cadaver. Unfortunate overall, but some good can be observed if one were a fly.

In my opinion, as far as the “updated response” goes, and taking a page out of today’s news, I liken it to the equivalent of the Famous Singer that is alleged to have licked unsold donuts at a Shop and is alleged to have been caught on video tape. With the America Editorial Board acting like the police….no charges!

Let’s all pray for Editorial Board changes, and a lot more critical evaluation of articles submitted by America staff or well-connected members of the Society going forward...

William Rydberg | 7/16/2015 - 2:43pm

I am wondering if Associate Editor Sam Sawyer reviewing the Comments page?

Just wondering...

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 4:40pm

I am reviewing them, but apparently not as quickly as you would like.

In answer to your questions about the editorial process, blog posts go through internal editorial review; this one and the update did as well.

Nora Bolcon | 7/16/2015 - 2:28pm

Unfortunately what none of this points out is the real truth behind keeping abortion legal. I don't agree with abortion but making it illegal will not stop it. It has not even reduced the amount of abortions in the countries where it was illegal and many countries where it has always been illegal have a worse percentage compared to countries that have had it supply on demand for many decades.

What we have recently learned and had proven to us is this truth: when our country provides women reliable and free birth control methods, the abortion rate drops 12 %. This is fact not fiction. We may actually be at a lower abortion rate percentage wise than we had in the 50's when it was illegal in our country.

I do believe preaching that it is human life you are ending, to those who are considering abortion is helpful, if this teaching is done in a loving, non-judgemental way, always with the respect that it is the human being that is pregnant who has the right to make the final decision. Our churches' constantly attacking that right rather than treating women with respect is part of the problem not the solution. No one listens to people who order them around, especially strangers they don't trust.

Jesus tells us not to judge but be an example and teach what is right to those who wish to know. "Give to anyone who needs help" works far more powerfully on a woman who is concerned she can't afford her baby, than telling her to "Give your kid up for adoption because we want you to have your kid but we don't feel you deserve a hand-out, if you keep your child" does.

We also need to show we mean to help women in general by following Europe by creating daycares paid for by the government, that are well run, like public schools. This way women are not trapped by their child and she can afford to raise her child even if there is no dad on the scene. This also helps married people who fear can they afford another child.

If pro-life continues to sensationalize the subject rather than become a real solution for women, they will lose more and more support every day. Stop attacking the law. Instead attack the problem.

J Cosgrove | 7/16/2015 - 2:06pm

I am sorry but this update is nonsense. There is a whole industry involved here (abortion) and the sting was about another industry that flows from it. To say there was no money or profit involved is ludicrous. There are hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into these organizations and the sting actor was posing as one who would make lots of money and this doctor was cooperating.

The doctor was willing to facilitate it and probably is well compensated and her future renumeration would probably depend on how she cooperated in such activities. She also said there was not qualms about using this to make money but only worried about perceptions.

To then focus on CMT was ludicrous. It was a diversion and how were they supposed to promote the video. Especially when big bucks were involved in what they were exposing just not as directly as they might have indicated. Money is involved and to deny this is missing something important.

I suggest everyone read the article posted by Mr. Kelly below and get Ms. Wilhelm as an author here.

Theresa Benton | 7/16/2015 - 12:43pm

At last and THANK YOU for being a reasonable, rational, concerned person who can be believed!!!!! I am so tired of unscrupulous people who are on our side and who are ruining the cause simply because they are unable to be pro-life in a calm and rational manner. Seriously, we do need to stick to the facts in order to change minds about this. Thank you for your refreshing article - and I totally agree with you!

Gabriel Syme | 7/16/2015 - 12:06pm

Thank you Fr. Sawyer for your update today.

I read your first post on Monday and this original post yesterday (7/15/15).

I have to admit that I had many question and concerns regarding this post when it was initially posted and to an extent I still do, although to a lesser extent after the update today (7/16/15).

It is still troubling to me lean so much on judging the way the necessary and important information was brought to light given the current culture's second by second attention span.

I find it hard to believe exclusively relying on the full length video to get this necessary information out in front of people would have been nearly as effective if at all considering how most of the minuscule coverage of this issue is equally helpful in repackaging, softening and covering up the grotesque facts far more so than what you accuse C.M.P. of selectively presenting hand in hand with the full length video.

“The right to life is the first human right. Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend him or herself.”
– Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J., with Rabbi Abraham Skorka in book ‘On Heaven and Earth’

“Defend the unborn against abortion even if they persecute you, calumniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.”
– Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, S.J., Pope Francis

And from your update today, "In this case, in my judgment, the Planned Parenthood representative seems not to be a profit-seeking monster, but rather someone who has so thoroughly dehumanized the unborn child as to be able to consider it as a source to be dismantled for parts. That’s more than bad enough." The latter is excellently stated, however the former about the representative not seeming to you to be 'profit-seeking monster' seems to miss the $30 - $100 comments the representative mentions. If it's all done in here or there (Planned Parenthood's) "goodwill" why is money even mentioned at all and or the mention of making it look like the headquarters is getting money?

Thanks again for the update today. I can now better appreciate the open minded perspective along with compassion for the PP staff even if I still disagree to an extent. To roughly quote Chesterton, "The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." Post compassion for the staff, the Planned Parenthood side of this story is like trying to eat air.

Join me and keep Fr. Sam Sawyer, the Society of Jesus and all religious orders in your prayers during this interesting time for Catholics everywhere.

Mark Mansfield | 7/16/2015 - 11:54am

Seriously, Fr. Sawyer???

First of all, I don't even know if she should be granted the benefit of the doubt that her story is true as to what led her to choose medical school considering the dispassionate and ghoulish way she describes extracting organs.

However, that is besides the point:
Let me ask you a hypothetical as a Catholic priest (or scholastic): If David Duke said he entered the Ku Klux Klan after witnessing a black man rape and murder a white women, would you refer to that as a "moving story". If Dr. Goebbels recounted that he conducted his experiments at concentration camps after he witnessed a Jewish man rape a German woman, would that be "moving" also?? I don't think there is any difference.

Everyone has different motives for choices they make in life. I have problems with you using that phrase considering how she is currently using her medical education. I somehow doubt you would have used that phrase under the scenarios stated above.

I just don't get your need to engage in false moral equivocation for intrinsically evil practices. Editing a video is not akin to murdering unborn children and harvesting organs. To spend the majority of this article hand wringing that this doctor was somehow victimized and really, really means well misses the point entirely. You are buying into the Planned Parenthood spin.

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 12:22pm

I wouldn't have said "moving" unless I could clarify, as I did following the long quote, that she wasn't moved nearly far enough, to compassion for the child along with the dying mother.

You might not agree with the word choice, but it doesn't constitute moral equivocation. If we can't be moved by the stories of how people convince themselves to support abortion, how are we ever going to dialogue with them enough to encourage them to change their minds?

Bob Hunt | 7/18/2015 - 3:56pm

I have to say I was also taken aback by use of the word "moving." If the bomber of the 16th Street Baptist Church had been unintentionally mortally wounded by the bomb that killed the four girls, I doubt we would describe a doctor's account of his frustrated attempts to save the bomber's life and his resulting dedication to make better bombs to avoid future unintentional deaths as "moving." Even if we were willing to concede that his compassion for the bomber did not go far enough to include the girls.

Yes, the woman the doctor tried to save was herself a victim of abortion. But, we could also say that the bomber was a victim of his own racism.

What disturbs me most about the video was what has disturbed most, and even led the president of PP to offer an apology - the cold, calculated language the doctor used to describe the destruction and mutilation of human life, made all the more abhorrant by her casual, matter-of-fact attitude toward the enterprise. While I agree with Fr. Sawyer that there's no gain in dismissing our opponants on this issue as "monsters," it's also true that we must not be afraid to describe their actions and their attitudes as monstrous.

I've just finished listening to a recording of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." I was struck by the casual, matter-of-fact way in which the characters in the novel, correctly reflecting the attitudes of white folks in those times, describe black folks. The racism of the culture was so entrenched that it never entered into the minds of whites during that era that the way blacks were treated was in any way, shape or form unfair or inherently unjust, never mind criminal, immoral or sinful. The notion that blacks are equal to whites would be nothing short of ludicrous to them. Were whites "monsters" for the way they regarded and treated blacks? Some would say, "yes!" Others would argue that they were themselves victims, in a certain sense, of their times and their culture. But, I would venture to say that no one today would fail to describe their actions and attitudes as monstrous.

Mark Mansfield | 7/16/2015 - 4:20pm

"If we can't be moved by the stories of how people convince themselves to support abortion, how are we ever going to dialogue with them enough to encourage them to change their minds?"

Fr. Sawyer, Not good enough. I appreciate your response but still respectfully find your word choice and tone of your article absolutely irresponsible. Again, it reads like an apologia.
I pray that she has a change of heart and converts. She is obviously a talented and smart woman who is morally blind to the atrocity. But to say we are "moved" by her story is again, irresponsible and I stand by my hypotheticals. If this wasn't abortion but racism, I don't think you would have used that word choice.

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 4:35pm

I understand you disagree with my word choice. However, your hypotheticals aren't properly analogous, because they deal with a situation that has only one victim, rather than two, and Dr. Nucatola's intention—as she understood it—was to avoid situations that would create future victims, not to, as in the KKK example, go about persecuting the victimizer. The problem with Dr. Nucatola's response isn't that she was inspired by a tragedy that was caused by a morally bad act, the problem is that she was only inspired to compassion for one of the victims of that act — and none of that is, nor was ever intended, as an apologia for the fact that her response to that inspiration was to devote herself to practicing abortions. I can acknowledge that a story about her responding to the death of a patient is moving without endorsing exactly what she did in response.

And I join you in your prayer for her change of heart.

Joshua DeCuir | 7/16/2015 - 12:15pm

Respectfully, I think you are confusing several distinct issues in the piece. The analysis is directing to whether or not Planned Parenthood is facilitating a "sale" of anything; that is a distinct issue wholly & apart from the issue of abortion.

I don't really view the comments about the doctor in the video as "hand wringing" or claiming she is "victimized." The video is horrendous; but that doesn't mean false accusations not substantiated by the actual evidence can be let to stand.

Mark Mansfield | 7/16/2015 - 4:24pm

I am not confusing the issues but trying to make multiple points quickly and (perhaps sloppily).
I understand what Fr Sawyer is trying to do. I "get" that this group highlighted/edited the "sexier" bits and publicized it for maximum effect. That doesn't change the fact that the tone of his article appears to offer excuses for what is a morally abhorrent practice.

Joshua DeCuir | 7/16/2015 - 9:11pm

But when you say "a morally abhorrent practice" you are clearly confusing issues: the abortion itself & the disposition of the aborted baby. When you accuse Fr. Sawyer of "offering excuses" for this act, you seem to be accusing him of rationalizing abortion. If that is the case, then in fairness, that accusation is completely baseless. Saying that one ought to understand the motivation of why someone would choose the type of practice this doctor did (in an effort to try to sway her) is NOT the same as saying one understands why she commits abortions. What Fr Sawyer is doing is saying that the accusation of Planned Parenthood facilitating the selling or sale of aborted babies - in contravention of federal law - is not necessarily borne out by the video. That is a totally different matter.

Mark Mansfield | 7/17/2015 - 1:55pm

No I am not. Both practices are abhorrent. The callousness displayed by this individual in how she describes the extraction is beyond disturbing considering the oath she took as a physician. Furthermore, I don't buy the whole "the baby is dead anyway" spin from PP and others who try to justify this practice. Abortion is wrong and using a dead baby for utilitarian means is wrong too. Period.

I don't believe Fr. Sawyer is secretly pro choice or pro harvesting. And I am in not in position to judge this doctor's soul or what motivates her or what issues she had in her past, etc., etc. However, we all can certainly make moral judgments on actions of others and call it out when it is immoral and wrong. This publication has no problem calling out sins of racism, sexism, etc, etc even if not necessarily illegal and using strong language. I found the tone of this article irresponsible and unfortunate.

To spend the majority of it seemingly lamenting how the video was edited, the "public perception" it gives pro lifers, and a "law review" type treatment of the various merits of her position I think was unfortunate in its tone. Matters of faith and morals (not people) are not worthy of that type of dispassionate treatment - particularly in a Catholic publication.

Annette Gape | 7/16/2015 - 11:21am

Distressing to say the least. I am convinced that social media is no place to have this conversation. If the point is to change hearts, and this applies to all of us, no matter what our stand, the superficiality of conversations on social media is not going to get us there. This is a well thought out and clearly measured article, and yet, the desire to simply read what one wants takes over in our byte driven society. I know I am guilty of it too and it seems to dishonor the lives of the babies that we are advocating for or for the patients who are caught up in this.

Thank you though for such a balanced and convicted response.

Joshua DeCuir | 7/16/2015 - 11:06am

America, and Fr. Sawyer, are to be commended for its balanced, well-analyzed reporting on this story. It is scandal to me that the other prominent Catholic publications, such as National Catholic Reporter, have failed to even allude to this controversy. If we are called to be Catholics concerned about the "seamless garment" of life, then we cannot ignore issues that make our favored side of the aisle uncomfortable. To my readed, this controvery is precisely in the bullseye of Pope Francis' criticisms of unfettered markets & an economy that kills. It ought to provide an opportunity to cross some of the "culture war" divisions between Catholics. Unfortunately it seems to be another front in the tiresome internecine Catholic wars.

I must also say I find it uncomfortable that no major Catholic social justice organization - such as Network or Sr. Simone Campbell - have made any statement about this controversy. Again, where is the "seamless garment." The Knights of Columbus were criticized by many Catholic liberals (including several prominent Catholic journalists on twitter) for their perceived silence when Laudato Si was released; such criticism ought to apply across the boared.

ROBERT STEWART | 7/16/2015 - 11:03am

A well-written, thoughtful article, Fr. Sam.

I particularly liked the paragraph that begins with "What has been obscured" and ends with "her compassion for the dying mother could not extend to the child the abortion had already killed."

Think you are spot-on with your comment about "virtually no one on either side of the abortion debate has motives as demonic as their opponents would like," and that is a major problem, one that makes for little or no room for a discussion that could possibly change minds about the moral imperative to choose life.

However, working as an Ignatian Volunteen for a social justice advocacy group, what I have found equally distressing is trying to persuade many opponents of abortion to advocate for life at all stages of life, namely life after birth. The consistent ethic of life does not get much of a hearing here in Virginia, as I note below in recounting my advocacy work as an Ignatian Volunteer for a faith-based advocacy group made up of mostly Catholics but also inclusive of Protestants, Jews, Muslims and a few folks with a sensitive conscience but not affiliated with any particular religion.

This issue became real for me when discussing the issue of expanding Medicaid to close the coverage gap for 400,000 Virginians, mostly working poor Virginian, with Virginia legislators, elected officials that opposed the expansion of health care . Legislators with whom I discussed the issue assured me that they were "pro-life," but what I found out in those discussion was that every legislator opposing the expansion of medical care coverage was really no more than anti-abortion. I was most grateful that the two Virginia bishops wrote a strong, persuasive letter emphasizing that expanding coverage and closing the coverage gap was clearly a "pro-life" issue. However, the bishops' plea, unfortunately, did little to move the opposing Virginia legislators to change their mind or expand their view of "pro-life."

Annette Gape | 7/16/2015 - 11:49am

Exactly. Convincing people that our responsibilities do not end at birth is a tough task. But I believe that each persons witness to that part of Social Teaching matters. Keep trying.

Sam Sawyer | 7/16/2015 - 10:31am

I have added an update to the post above in response to a number of the comments here.

Joe Kash | 7/16/2015 - 8:42am

Sam Sawyer says, "Dr. Nucatola’s moving explanation of how she ended up focusing her practice as a physician on abortion"

I would have been moved if she would have dedicated her life to helping these women in this crisis situation, not to escape their problem but to come out of the darkness and deal with their problem in a loving way. It sickens me that someone can be moved by her choice.

I am sure that there were moving episodes in Dr. Josef Mengele life which lead him to dedicate his life to research also.

I watched and listened to this video and I was moved in a different way. I could not help but visualize Hannibal Lector eating his liver.

Crystal Watson | 7/16/2015 - 3:56am

Thank you for this post.

Teresa Trujillo | 7/16/2015 - 1:36am

There does seem to be a very non-Catholic defense of this doctor's POV here. Yes, a Jesuit priest can be sympathetic to the doctor but I think the author erred in defending the practice of both abortion and the selling of fetal tissue.

Abortion is intrinsically evil in the eyes of the church. Jesuits are supposed to be focused on combating evil in our world through their work in the margins. You cannot combat this level of evil if you give it safe harbor in your words.

Abortion is intrinsically evil. It is the taking of life. It is wrong. The doctors who perform abortions have misidentified their actions as being right in man's law, and ignore God's law.

It is time to live in the light of the truth.

Sara Damewood | 7/15/2015 - 10:10pm

Thank you for your balanced perspective! Well written.

J Cosgrove | 7/15/2015 - 9:04pm

Planned Parenthood is a fellow traveler on the left and while the Jesuits are not going to overtly defend them, notice the techniques used to minimize or divert. A typical ploy by the left/press is to focus on something unrelated to the actual story so that the story becomes something different.

In most cases the story becomes how conservatives or Republicans react to scandals by liberals. The actual story then becomes secondary and over reaction becomes the story. See

In this case the deflection is how the information was obtained and some way to minimize what the doctor said.

Notice these words applied to the organization which did the sting:

C.M.P.’s edited version of the video, not to mention the undercover sting operation itself, is in many respects deeply unfair. This is a non issue. CMP should have been left out of the discussion but criticizing it becomes a convenient distraction.

That title is, by any fair standard, wildly misleading

Actually not if you read the transcript and what the doctor said.

And then comments about the doctor:

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. justifying the process

Even if interpreted uncharitably, this is a far cry from “selling” tissue from abortions minimizing what PP is doing

There is this from the conversation:

Buyer: So, the main thing, well, not the main thing that I would like to discuss is, I’d really like to connect with people who feel they don’t know we’re out there. They don’t know there’s this opportunity. And that could be a little touchy, for them more for us, and I want to be delicate to any reservations.

PP: Yeah, you know, I don’t think it’s a reservations issue so much as a perception issue, because I think every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them. 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 of this.’ I know in the Planned Parenthood world they’re very very sensitive to that. And before an affiliate is gonna do that, they need to, obviously, they’re not—some might do it for free—but they want to come to a number that 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. I think with private providers, private clinics, they’ll have much less of a problem with that.

They don't have reservations but don't want to look bad. It is a perception problem.

preceded by the insistence, due to ethical concerns, that the basic procedure cannot be changed to accommodate the collection of tissue But it is changed to harvest the organs.

From the transcript:

PP: It makes a huge difference. 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. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium, the head is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact. It’s very rare to have a patient that doesn’t have enough dilation to evacuate all the other parts intact.

Buyer: To bring the body cavity out intact and all that?

PP: Exactly. So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium. So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken to try to ensure—

They are taking extreme care to harvest the important organs.

Here is the transcript that Fr. Sawyer linked to:

Why are some of the commenters here and the author focused on things other than what Planned Parenthood does? CMT and how they got the information is a diversion. Whether it is legal or not is a diversion. Denying health care to women is a diversion. The only issue is that PP is harvesting organs and what are the motives of the people that do it.