Planned Parenthood told Congress on Thursday that the organization’s physicians on rare occasions make adjustments to an abortion procedure if a patient wants to donate fetal material.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in a letter to congressional leadership that if a woman who has decided to have an abortion wants to donate the fetal tissue or organs, she and her physician choose which method is best suited to her case. With certain methods, a physician can adjust the procedure to better facilitate the requested donation, she said.
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Abortion opponents say the statement amounts to a smoking gun that suggests illegal activity. In one of the series of sting videos that has put the women’s health organization on the defensive since mid-July, a Planned Parenthood physician discusses in graphic terms how procedures may be adjusted to better facilitate tissue donation.
David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind the videos, told POLITICO on Thursday that the point is something “Congress needs to really hammer home in their investigations.”
But Richards’s letter, which accompanied a commissioned report outlining a series of misleading edits in the videos, seeks to explain the distinction. She indicated that a physician does not adjust which procedure to use — such as whether to do a medically induced abortion or a surgical procedure. Instead, the physician only makes adjustments during the course of the procedure as warranted to donate tissue. She likened it to an obstetrician adjusting the delivery of a baby if the mother wants to preserve the cord blood.
Federal law prohibits physicians from actually switching the abortion method to facilitate donation when the tissue is used for federally funded fetal transplantation. Richards noted that the statute is outdated because it doesn’t cover any of the fetal research done today but that Planned Parenthood still upholds the spirit of the law.
“Our understanding, however, is that even adjustments that facilitate fetal tissue donations rarely occur at our few clinics that offer women this service,” she wrote. “What is essential is that in every instance, the physician’s focus is on the woman’s health because our patients’ health is our paramount concern.”
Richards also told congressional leaders that fetal tissue donations only happen at two of the organization’s 59 affiliates, underscoring its contention that the sting videos and the ensuing attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are striking at a very small fraction of its work.
One of the affiliates, based in California, receives $60 per tissue specimen from a tissue procurement company, according to her letter. A Washington affiliate receives no reimbursement. Four other affiliates have ended their programs since the videos were made public but once received reimbursements of $45 to $55 per specimen, she noted.
“In every case, the affiliates report that these amounts were intended to recover only their costs, as allowed under the federal law and our guidance,” Richards wrote.
Daleiden contends that Planned Parenthood has no costs associated with a donation since a tissue procurement company handles all of the laboratory work — a contention that Planned Parenthood refutes.
Richards said that there is no evidence that any affiliates have broken any laws.
Her statements are sure to capture the interest of congressional Republicans who are conducting investigations into Planned Parenthood’s practices. But Richards urged congressional leaders to show restraint in scrutinizing her organization, stressing the forensic report’s findings that the videos have been heavily edited, delete important context, include inaccurately transcribed conversations and are missing footage.
“The sensationalistic atmosphere the doctored videos seek to create is exactly the opposite of the reasoned and deliberate process President [Ronald] Reagan set in motion with the Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel,” Richards wrote in reference to the panel that established federal fetal tissue laws. “The videos mislead rather than inform the public debate.”