Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards apologized on Thursday for the tone and statements of the organization's medical director, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, in an undercover video which purported to show Nucatola discussing the sale of fetal body parts harvested from abortions.
The video, recorded about a year ago, was released on Tuesday by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which describes itself as a nonprofit "dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances."
CMP's allegations that Planned Parenthood affiliates were involved in sales of fetal tissue and carried out illegal partial-birth abortions prompted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to announce state investigations into Planned Parenthood.
In a video statement released Thursday, Richards denied CMP's "outrageous claims" and reiterated that the "allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true."
However, she apologized for Nucatola's behavior while she was secretly filmed over lunch with actors pretending to be from a fetal tissue procurement company.
"Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide," Richards said. "In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member's tone and statements."
She added that "swift action" would be taken to address the issue.
"Every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue and they absolutely want to accommodate them," Nucatola is filmed telling the actors. "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.'"
Planned Parenthood on Tuesday said in a statement that the "heavily edited, secretly recorded" video "falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research."
Instead, the organization noted that several of its centers help patients who want to donate fetal tissue for scientific research.
At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.
There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.
In her conversation with the actors, as per the transcripts of the video provided by CMP, Nucatola appears to be discussing the delicate balance affiliate centers try to strike when determining how much to charge for handling and transporting that tissue:
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.
Nucatola: 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.
Buyer: OK, so, when you are, or the affiliate is, determining what that monetary — so that it doesn't create, raising a question of this is what it's about, this is the main — what price range, would you—?
Nucatola: You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it's probably anywhere from $30 to $100 [per fetus], depending on the facility and what's involved.
It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there who's going to be doing everything? Is there shipping involved? Is somebody gonna have to take it out?
You know, I think everybody just wants, it's really just about if anyone were ever to ask them, "What do you do for this $60? How can you justify that? Or are you basically just doing something completely egregious, that you should be doing for free?:
So it just needs to be justifiable.
Federal law allows medical centers to transfer fetal tissue so long as it does not affect interstate commerce. Medical facilities are also only allowed to recoup reasonable costs associated with the transport and handling.
Nucatola also clarifies what Planned Parenthood considers to be a specimen: "One case. One patient," she tells the actors.
In another segment Nucatola discusses changing the fetal position to maximize the usefulness of the tissue donation, noting that doctors try to carry out the abortion in a way that will, as much as possible, avoid damaging areas of the fetus most sought after for medical research:
Nucatola: 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... 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.
She also expanded on the approach local affiliates take when considering their charge schedule:
Nucatola: 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
The Center of Medical Progress did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. But in his statement Tuesday Jindal — a Republican candidate for president — called the video "shocking and gruesome." He ordered Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals to conduct an investigation into the alleged "evil and illegal activity and to not issue any licenses until this investigation is complete."
The halt on licenses will effectively push back the opening date for a new clinic Planned Parenthood has built in New Orleans.
Jindal also said he was asking the FBI to assist in the investigation.
Abbott also announced Tuesday evening that Texas would investigate, calling the video "unnerving and appalling." He said in a statement he had ordered the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to investigate in addition to a separate investigation by the Texas Office of the Attorney General.
In a separate statement to BuzzFeed News, Planned Parenthood slammed the video, which it claimed was made by "extreme anti-abortion activists" in an effort to portray the organization in a false light.
"Nowhere does anyone from Planned Parenthood discuss 'selling' fetal tissue. Even the heavily-edited video from extreme anti-abortion activists doesn't show this or make this accusation. It simply doesn't happen," Planned Parenthood said in its statement. "On the video, the Planned Parenthood staff member talks about standard reimbursement fees for costs associated with tissue donation programs, which every health care provider has and which the federal law provides for."
The organization added that the fact that "far-right, anti-abortion politicians are latching onto this doesn't make it any more credible or real."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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