A video released July 14 that appears to show a top Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of parts of aborted babies for research, including discussing ways the abortion procedure can be altered to preserve specifically requested body parts, has now provoked a number of state inquiries into the abortion-provider's services and may lead to congressional investigations.
The nearly nine-minute edited video—filmed undercover and produced by the Center for Medical Progress—quickly went viral.
"Planned Parenthood's criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts reaches to the very highest levels of their organization," said David Daleiden, who led the undercover investigation. Planned Parenthood has denied making a profit on the sale of tissue and orgrans of aborted babies, as the center alleges, an apparent violation of federal law.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal launched an investigation in his state. The abortion provider is getting ready to open a $4 million clinic in New Orleans. "Today's video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing the systematic harvesting and trafficking of human body parts is shocking and gruesome," said Jindal, who is a Republican presidential candidate. In Georigia Gov. Nathan Deal has likewise ordered a review of his state's Planned Parenthood clinics. Other Republican lawmakers and 2016 presidential hopefuls joined in, including some who said Congress should end federal aid to the organization.
"Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video—we must all act. As a start, I have asked our relevant committees to look into this matter."
The Associated Press reports that three Republican-led congressional committees now plan to investigate whether Planned Parenthood is selling organs from aborted fetuses. House Speaker Boehner in his statement also urged President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell should "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."
In the video released July 14, a woman identified as Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Medical Services Department, says: "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."
The video was shot at a business lunch in the Los Angeles area July 25, 2014, with actors posing as buyers from a human biologics company, according to the nonprofit Center for Medical Progress. The center describes itself as a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances and in particular "contemporary bioethical issues that impact human dignity."
In the video, Nucatola says specific body parts go for $30 to $100 and fetal livers are in high demand. As head of Planned Parenthood's Medical Services Department, Nucatola has overseen medical practice at of the federation's locations since 2009. She also trains new Planned Parenthood abortion doctors and performs abortions herself at Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles on women who are up to 24 weeks pregnant, according to Center for Medical Progress.
Planned Parenthood acknowledged it sometimes charges for aborted fetuses' body parts used for research. However, Erin Ferrero, Planned Parenthood's vice president of communications, said in a statement: "There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or Planned Parenthood." Ferrero questioned the credibility of the video, calling it "heavily edited," and said the money mentioned is for actual costs such as transportation costs.
According to a New York Times report on the controversy, companies that acquire fetal tissue and organs from Planned Parenthood can command high prices depending on the processing required, "given the demand among researchers."
"Researchers at universities with medical centers that perform abortions may obtain fetal tissue there," the Times reports, "but private companies also act as middlemen, obtaining tissue from abortion providers and selling it to researchers."
The Times reports that the National Institutes of Health spent $76 million in 2014 on research involving human fetal tissue and "expects to spend the same amount this year."
During the video, Nucatola mentions one of those companies, StemExpress, a five-year-old business in Placerville, Calif., that describes itself as “the largest provider of maternal blood and fetal tissue globally,” according to the Times report. The company's website was offline in "maintenance mode" today, but a February 2104 screen capture on waybackmachine listed "Fresh" "Fetal Liver - CD133+ Stem/Progenitor Cells," among other fetal commodity offerings, for $878 to $2,433 a vial, depending on quantity.
Fordham bioethicist Charles Camosy located an archived page which suggests StemExpress was pitching partnerships to abortion clinics as a way to improve fiscal bottom lines. "By partnering with StemExpress," the company appeals to clinic directors, "not only are you offering a way for your clients to participate in the unique opportunity to facilitate life-saving research, but you will also be contributing to the fiscal growth of your own clinic. The stem cell rich blood and raw materials that are usually discarded during procedures can, instead, be expedited through StemExpress to research laboratories with complete professionalism and source anonymity."
The company closes: "Join the StemExpress partner program that fiscally rewards clinics for contributing to the advancement of life-saving research—with a solution that is easy to incorporate into your clinic practices."
The video of Nucatola is part of the "Human Capital" project, a 30-month undercover investigation by the center and also supported by Life Legal Defense Foundation, a Napa, California-based nonprofit group that advocates for pro-life issues through the law and education.
The Center for Medical Progress plans to publish more videos and said it also will post a "Human Capital" web series detailing Planned Parenthood's alleged commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue. Full footage of the Planned Parenthood official's conversation and a 60-page transcript were available on the centerformedicalprogress.org website. The website also holds documents related to harvesting of aborted baby parts.
"This public revelation about Planned Parenthood's trafficking in human body parts obtained as a byproduct of abortion is long overdue," said Vicki Evans, respect life coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Her 2010 report on the fetal tissue industry, titled "Commercial Markets Created by Abortion: Profiting from the Fetal Distribution Chain" was published in the National Catholic Bioethics Center newsletter "Ethics &Medics."
An undercover investigation of a Planned Parenthood affiliate conducted by Life Dynamics Inc. in 2000 resulted in similar findings, Evans said. Congressional hearings to investigate trafficking in fetal organs and tissue by private companies were held but nothing was done, Evans said.
"I hope this time, there is enough public outrage to finally stop the abortion giant from continuing to exploit women and their unborn children to increase its obscene profits," Evans told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.
In Washington, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and two other House members were holding an afternoon news conference July 15 calling for a hearing and further investigation into the evidence presented in the Nucatola video.
Americans United for Life in a July 14 statement called for immediate congressional and state investigations into "abortion profiteering."
Under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, the revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1987 and the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, human fetal tissue or organs cannot legally be bought and sold in the U.S., said Evans. Money can change hands only to reimburse for expenses incurred.
In the July 14 undercover video, Nucatola says that the abortion procedure can be altered if the abortionist knows in advance what body part is desired by the buyer, saying extraction of the baby can be changed to breech to get more of the body intact for use by researchers.
"What's she's describing is a partial-birth abortion," said Katie Short, Life Legal Defense Fund's vice president for legal affairs. "She's basically confessing to something illegal."
The July 14 report renewed calls for an end to the more than $500 million in state and federal funds that Planned Parenthood receives annually.
"Why should the government fund an organization that is so corrupt as to be selling the brains, livers, eyes, legs and other body parts of the babies it kills—not to mention being corrupt enough to kill them in the first place," said Father Frank Pavone, Priests for Life national director.
"The tragedy exposed here is another sign that the safe, legal, and rare approach to abortion was never a tenable position," wrote Dominican Brother Dominic Bouck in a blog post on the website of the journals First Things.
"The dehumanization of unborn children leads to the dehumanization of those who perform abortions, leading from killing living human beings to treating them explicitly as commodities," he said.