A second undercover video with a Planned Parenthood official has sharpened the focus on whether the organization is violating federal law governing the donation of fetal tissue and organs from abortions.
The latest video, released Tuesday by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress as part of a three-year investigation, shows Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Mary Gatter haggling over the price of aborted fetal tissue and contemplating the use of an alternative abortion method to obtain an intact fetus.
While Planned Parenthood supporters insist that neither video shows any illegal activity, pro-life advocates argue that the secretly taped discussions point to evidence of wrongdoing at the nation’s largest abortion provider.
“If they’re talking about federal law, I believe there’s probable cause that in fact the law has been violated,” said Ovide Lamontagne, general counsel for Americans United for Life.
Federal law forbids the donation of fetal tissue from an abortion for “valuable consideration,” with the exception of “reasonable payments” for costs associated with transporting, processing and storing the fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said last week that the organization only charges for “actual costs” arising from the donation, but Mr. Lamontagne argued that the videos suggest otherwise.
“What I think is striking about both of these videos is that, in neither instance, is there any thought given to what the costs are of Planned Parenthood. Neither doctor talks about that,” said Mr. Lamontagne. “They talk about the market, what the range is. In no place do they say, ‘Well, we think overhead costs, or whatever the costs are that are allowed under this definition, equate to X amount of dollars.’”
Not so, said Planned Parenthood senior counsel Roger K. Evans, who argued that the first video with Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatola shows her estimating a fetal tissue specimen at $30 to $100, then citing cost drivers such as “space issues are you sending someone there who’s going to be doing everything; is there shipping involved?”
“During the video, Dr. Nucatola repeatedly says that the Planned Parenthood affiliates are not making a profit, but are only recovering their costs,” Mr. Evans said in a Tuesday letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton.
The first video Mr. Evans said “was selectively edited to create the impression that Planned Parenthood sells tissue, profits from tissue donation for medical research, or violates other laws in this area — which are simply not true.”
Mr. Evans also said that Dr. Nucatola would be unable to attend a committee staff briefing until the organization retains counsel “to advise us on the best way to proceed.”
The House committee launched an investigation last week into concerns stemming from the first video. At least seven states — Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Georgia — have also started probes into Planned Parenthood facilities in their jurisdictions.
In the second video, filmed Feb. 6 at a Los Angeles-area restaurant, Dr. Gatter peppers her negotiations over the price for fetal tissue with comments like, “We’re not in it for the money” and “The money is not the important thing,” but engages in haggling and jokes about wanting to buy a pricey sports car.
She asks at the outset, “Why don’t you start by telling me what you’re used to paying?” and “You know, in negotiations whoever throws out the figure first is at a loss, right?” before suggesting $75 per specimen.
Dr. Gatter later agrees to $100 per specimen for high-quality fetal organs, but then adds, “Let me just figure out what others are getting, and, if this is in the ballpark, then it’s fine; if it’s still low, then we can bump it up. I want a Lamborghini.”
Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, issued a statement Tuesday asking, “If Planned Parenthood was simply seeking reimbursement costs for tissue ‘donations,’ then why would its employees haggle over prices?”
She announced that she would introduce legislation “placing an immediate moratorium on all Planned Parenthood funding for one year while Congress conducts a thorough investigation.”
“Planned Parenthood’s web of deceit is quickly unraveling, and the case for defunding this heartless organization has never been stronger,” Ms. Black said.
Other questions have been raised about whether Planned Parenthood is illegally altering its abortion procedures to improve the quality of its fetal donations.
In the first video, Dr. Nucatola explains how to “crush” the fetus in order to preserve valuable organs, while Dr. Gatter says that the surgeon performing the abortion may be able to use a different technique to ensure an intact fetus.
“I wouldn’t object to asking Ian, who’s our surgeon who does the cases, to use an IPAS [manual vacuum aspirator] at that gestational age in order to increase the odds that he’s going to get an intact specimen,” says Dr. Gatter, who serves as president of Planned Parenthood’s medical directors’ council and oversees the Pasadena affiliate.
Federal law states that the woman donating the fetal tissue must sign a statement declaring that “no alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue.”
Dr. Gatter acknowledges that if she suggests a different method, “Then we’re kind of violating the protocol that says to the patient, ‘We’re not doing anything different in our care of you.’” But she adds that she thinks that rule silly: “To me, that’s kind of a specious little argument.”
She adds, “I think they’re both totally appropriate techniques; there’s no difference in pain involved. I don’t think the patients would care one iota.”
Reason.com’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown said in the doctor’s defense that, “Gatter didn’t say clinic doctors are altering abortion methods in order to get intact tissue, merely (when pressed by the undercover actors) that they could do so.”
At the same time, Ms. Brown acknowledged that, “[T]here is somewhat more substance to this tack.”
Pro-choice advocates continued Tuesday to defend Planned Parenthood, attacking the videos as selectively taped and edited by an unabashedly pro-life group.
The center has released clips of the videos as well as the “full footage” on YouTube.
Mr. Evans upped the ante by accusing the center’s David Daleiden, who headed the investigation, of “illicit conduct” and “possibly unlawful actions” by creating a false company, Biomax Procurement Services, and using a false California driver’s license to gain access to facilities.
“News reports have commented that Biomax’s and the Center for Medical Progress’ activities may have violated the law,” Mr. Evans said, citing reports on MSNBC and The Huffington Post.
Mr. Daleiden responded Tuesday by saying that the center “follows all applicable laws in the course of our investigative journalism work.”
“[W]e look forward to showing the public more clear evidence that Planned Parenthood routinely profits from the sale of baby parts and changes the abortion procedures it uses on pregnant women in order to do so,” he said in a statement.