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Yes, Planned Parenthood Is Breaking the Law

Planned ParenthoodThroughout the heated debate over a series of damning undercover sting videos, Planned Parenthood has been desperately clinging to its one lifeline: that it didn’t break the law. The Center for Medical Progress, on the other hand, claims that Planned Parenthood sold fetuses and their organs for profit, in contravention of federal law.

But Planned Parenthood has noted that it’s perfectly legal to donate fetuses in return for compensation to cover their costs, and claim they never made a profit: “There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood,” they insist. “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.”

But this writer feels, in many ways, that entire debate misses the point. Those who are disgusted watching Planned Parenthood employees describing the best way to “crush” fetuses, joking about how they’ll use the proceeds to buy a Lamborghini, and laughing while holding an aborted fetus’ limbs that “It’s a boy!” aren’t disgusted because they think its illegal. They’re disgusted because it’s morally repulsive. It may very well be that Planned Parenthood’s actions fall within the law; to me, that only demonstrates the absurdity of our nation’s abortion law.

But Planned Parenthood’s defense fails on one more important point: that’s not the only law they’re accused of breaking. And when it comes to one particular federal provision, Planned Parenthood is unquestionably guilty of breaking the law.

Federal law clearly states that while fetal donation may be legal, it is against the law to alter abortion practices in order to obtain fetal organs. Fetal donation is only proscribed when “no alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue.”

As to whether or not the Planned Parenthood videos show the organization is “altering” its procedures to obtain fetal organs, the answer is an unqualified yes. Take this convo with Planned Parenthood’s Deborah Nuctatola, where she openly admits many abortionists change their procedure to preserve organs:

PP: 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… 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–

At least in that first video, it’s ambiguous whether or not Planned Parenthood was actually doing these thing, or whether or not Nucatola was talking about how other “providers” and “some people” did change their procedures. But two of the following videos put any doubt to rest.

First, Medical Directors’ Council President Mary Gatter:

PP: If our usual technique is suction at 10 to 12 weeks, and we switch to using an IPAS [a brand of 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 that 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, who’s our surgeon who does the cases, to use an IPAS at that gestational age in order to increase the odds that he’s going to get an intact specimen.

And then, there’s Gulf Coast director of research Melissa Farrell.

PP: [We’ve] had studies in which the company or the investigator has a specific need, for certain portion of the products of conception… And we bake that into our contract, and our protocol, that we follow this. And we deviate from our standard in order to do that. So, you know, we can do it in a way that we’re still verifying that everything is there for the safety of the patient, but then we maintain the integrity of that sample. So yeah, that’s definitely something we can do. So as far as, this is our standard process, telling you then we can get creative about when and where and under what conditions can we interject something that is specific to the tissue needs.

Buyer: So that goes to my next, can you get creative, can you alter—

PP: Mhm.

Geez, the fake buyer barely managed to get the word “alter” out before she immediately starting saying she’s on-board. But let’s keep going.

Buyer: If we say, that we need a liver. Or not just liver-thymus, but also neural tissue… Could you adjust the procedure, if you knew—

PP: Mhm.

Buyer: Okay, they need high volume of this—

PP: Mhm.

Buyer: Could you match that, and— You know, 18 to 22 week neural specimens, both hemispheres intact. So that it’s intact—

PP: Yeah, I think we could do that.

So yeah, she was more than a little eager to agree to alter the procedure. What’s more, she’s open about the fact she’s done so in the past.

But what makes this conversation even worse is that in the full version of the video, Farrell readily admits that doctors have to sign a form saying they haven’t altered the procedure, despite having just agreed to do so.

PP: So here’s information about what we have to say, in the protocol itself. The consent. Forms that we have to use. “The clinician has to sign a form that says the tissue was donated, the consent was obtained prior to collecting the tissue, and no alteration in the timing of the termination of the pregnancy, or the method used was made for obtaining the tissue.”

That’s why I said we can do it in terms of this, but we can’t delay an abortion in order to get a later gestation. Of course, that’s unethical or anything that’s going to put her at risk in terms of “no alteration was made in terms of the timing of the termination or the method used.” So if we’re going to be doing a surgical procedure, the surgical procedure is going to be the same. We’re not going to say hey, let’s experiment with giving you, you know, whatever medication…

Farrell seems to be operating under the false assumption about what sort of changes to the abortion procedures the law actually bans. She cites changes that put the woman at risk, delay the abortion, or change the medication or method of abortion, and implies that some alterations are okay (“we can do it in terms of this, but…”). But the law is clear that NO alterations can be made for the sole purpose of obtaining fetal organs. And that’s exactly what she already agreed to do earlier in the conversation.

What sort of legal defense does Planned Parenthood have? While, they might as well follow the lead of one abortion doctor, who argued on Twitter that it is literally impossible to break the law against altering procedures:

Make no mistake: Planned Parenthood has and is breaking the law. The only real question remaining is whether lawmakers and prosecutors intend to do anything about it.

[Image via screengrab]
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>>Follow Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) on Twitter

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