After having spent months saying that its officials were doing nothing unethical in undercover videos showing them haggling over the price for aborted fetal organs, Planned Parenthood’s leader said Tuesday the group will no longer accept any payment for the parts.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the new policy an effort to end the scandal over what she has called edited and misleading videos.
But there was no sign she would succeed as Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill said their investigations would go on and continued to denounce the practice of harvesting aborted fetal tissue as barbaric, whether done for profit or not.
“Our Federation has decided, going forward, that any Planned Parenthood health center that is involved in donating tissue after an abortion for medical research will follow the model already in place” at one affiliate, in which “no reimbursement for its reasonable expenses” is accepted, Ms. Richards said in a letter dated Tuesday to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
The letter was also sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
A 1993 federal law permits women to donate aborted fetuses for use in scientific research, but only allows abortion providers to recover the reasonable costs of running such programs.
Some of the undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) showed Planned Parenthood officials saying those fees can be manipulated and negotiated, with one joking that she needed to buy a Lamborghini sports car.
Leaders of three House committees promptly issued statements saying their investigations into Planned Parenthood would continue and that the new policy does not touch the core moral issue.
“While Planned Parenthood has stated its intention to end its practice of accepting reimbursements for fetal tissue donation, it has not stated its commitment to end its horrific practice of harvesting fetal tissue,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
The Judiciary committee’s investigation into Planned Parenthood — especially its practices regarding fetal-tissue procurement and federal laws against partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after abortion — will continue, he said.
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said the decision to stop taking reimbursements is “a good, tangible result” of the House investigations into Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Chaffetz also called the move “helpful in taking away some questions surrounding their transactions involving fetal tissue.”
However, he added, this decision “does not answer the question as to why a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization reporting approximately $125 million in revenue over expenses annually needs a subsidy from the American taxpayer.”
Planned Parenthood’s announcement comes as the organization has tried in vain to quell political and public outcry over 10 undercover videos that purport to reveal a culture of price-haggling, profiting and violations of federal law in its clinics.
Planned Parenthood has lambasted these videos, taken by pro-life CMP, as making “patently false claims” about their activities.
That rebuttal doesn’t appear to resonate with people once they have seen the sometimes-graphic videos, however.
In findings from a series of focus groups of people who were selected for being neither strongly pro-choice or pro-life, the videos evoke feelings of distrust, frustration and betrayal, said Kellyanne Conway, founder and president of the polling company inc./WomanTrend.
Her research, which was conducted for CMP, was reported in The Washington Times on Tuesday.
Pro-choice groups and supporters in Congress have rallied to Planned Parenthood’s defense.
“There is no evidence in the record whatsoever of illegal activity at Planned Parenthood,” Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee said at an Oct. 8 hearing.
House Democrats have also prepared a video with exculpatory statements they say were omitted from the videos publicly promoted by CMP.
In her Tuesday letter, Ms. Richards — who has already testified before Mr. Chaffetz’s committee — said Planned Parenthood will “never bow to political pressure” or “back down” from advancing women’s health.
But she also wrote that, amid congressional and state investigations and efforts to defund their affiliates, it was time to defuse the fetal-tissue issue and take their opponents’ “smokescreen away” and “expose” their “false charges.”
Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican and author of the House-passed Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, said Tuesday the move was “curious” given Planned Parenthood’s stance that “there has been no wrongdoing.”
“Clearly, this was a decision motivated by optics rather than the organization’s conscience,” said Ms. Black, a registered nurse.
“Rest assured,” she added, “this development does not change my conviction that Planned Parenthood should not be subsidized by the American taxpayers.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican and vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that her panel would also continue its efforts investigating Planned Parenthood, as it still had “many questions” to answer regarding its business practices and relationships with tissue-procurement organizations.
Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, told The Associated Press that its Washington state affiliate has a policy of accepting no reimbursement for its fetal-tissue donation costs, and now the California affiliate will follow the same policy.
“I don’t think it will have a huge impact on their budget,” Ms. Laguens said. “For Planned Parenthood, this was always about one thing: honoring the desire of women to contribute to lifesaving research. It was never about money.”
Despite the law permitting nonprofit donations of fetal tissue, it is illegal to sell fetal tissue for profit, to manipulate abortion procedures to preserve coveted fetal parts, to pressure women to give consent for the donation of their fetuses or to kill newborns who survive abortion.
The CMP videos appear to show Planned Parenthood and affiliated groups’ employees describing doing all those things.
In fiscal 2014 NIH gave about $76 million in grants for research using human fetal tissue, with more than half of the grants going to institutions in California, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. The studies covered a range of subjects, including retinas and eye conditions, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes and immune systems.
Some observers believe fetal-tissue research is now “antiquated” and “functionally obsolete.”
Monkey cells and other methods have replaced fetal cells in vaccine research, and adult stem cells — including those collected from umbilical cords — are used in many treatments, wrote Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican and a medical doctor, and molecular genetics scholar David Prentice, vice president of Charlotte Lozier Institute, in an recent opinion article that appeared in The Washington Times.
Another unlimited source of research cells comes from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which can be produced from “the tissue of any human being without harm to the donor,” they wrote. In short, they said, Congress is right in ending the outdated and “brutal trade” in fetal tissue.