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Appalled by controversial videos about the extraction of fetal organs for research, Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, recently asked his constituents whether Virginia should take action against Planned Parenthood.
"Considering the revelation that some Planned Parenthood chapters have been selling the body parts of aborted fetuses for profit, do you support or oppose a state investigation into the Planned Parenthood chapters in Virginia?" he asked in an 11-question survey that was mailed to constituents and remains on his website.
Planned Parenthood has acknowledged that one of its clinics in each of two states - Washington and California - supplies fetal tissue to medical researchers and that the one in California has been getting reimbursed. Scientists have used fetal tissue since the 1930s; such experimentation was instrumental in developing the polio vaccine. Current studies are using the tissue to research maladies including AIDS, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s.
Federal law bars organizations performing abortions from profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The law does, however, allow them to receive "reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue."
O’Bannon’s statement that some Planned Parenthood chapters have been selling parts for profit - a claim made by many abortion opponents - is noteworthy because it accuses the organization of illegal acts. So we asked O’Bannon, a neurologist, for proof.
He replied in an email: "Considering the videos revealing the activities of Planned Parenthood officials, I’m surprised you’d ask this question.
"I urge you to watch the videos, obtained by the Center for Medical Progress, in their entirety here," O’Bannon wrote, with a hyperlink to the group’s website.
The Center for Medical Progress is an anti-abortion group that made national headlines last summer when it released secretly recorded videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials trying to sell aborted fetus tissue for profit.
The director of the center, David Daleiden, posed as a representative of a fake biotech company that was seeking to buy fetal tissue for research. He approached officials from several abortion-providing organizations, including Planned Parenthood.
The footage contains graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and the methods for salvaging issue, which may be done only with the mother’s advance permission. Some of the conversations occurred over meals, and Planned Parenthood later apologized for the casual attitude displayed by one official in her discussion with Daleiden, who was undercover.
One video shows Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, telling Daleiden that he "probably" could obtain tissue for fees ranging from $30 to $100 per specimen. The exact cost, she said, could depend on how much staff time is required to extract the tissue and whether shipping costs were involved.
Another video shows Daleiden and an unidentified female colleague - both undercover - meeting with Mary Gatter, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Medical Directors’ Council. Gatter, after much prodding, said the fee for a tissue specimen might be $50 to $75, but she wasn’t sure and would have to consult with others.
"We’re not in it for the money, and we don’t want to be in the position of being accused of selling tissues and stuff like that," Gatter said. "On the other hand, there are costs involved with this."
Federal law doesn’t define in dollars and cents the "reasonable payments" abortion clinics may charge for their costs in extracting fetal tissue. Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, has told PolitiFact National that the $30 to $100 range cited by Planned Parenthood officials does "not appear to be out of the ordinary, but no one knows because there is no registry or compendium of fees charged by organizations (or) institutions supplying fetal tissue."
The videos have provided new fuel for the efforts of anti-abortion groups to convince Congress and state governments to defund Planned Parenthood. They have prompted separate investigations of the organization in at least 18 states - but not Virginia - and by congressional Republicans.
So far, 12 states have concluded their investigations without finding evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, according to a Jan. 28 article by National Public Radio..
Perhaps the most significant results came from Washington, one of the two states in which a Planned Parenthood clinic supplied fetal tissue to researchers. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, issued a report in November that concluded the organization did not profit from the activity in his state.
Officials in California, the other state where tissue transactions are known to have occurred, have not launched an investigation.
Planned Parenthood, seeking to quell the controversy from the videos, announced in October that it no longer would accept reimbursement for fetal tissues.
It also should be noted that on Jan. 24, a Texas grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and indicted Daleiden on a felony charge of tampering with a government record by fashioning a fake California driver’s license. Sandra Merritt, another center employee who accompanied Daleiden on some of the meetings with Planned Parenthood, was indicted on the same charge.
Daleiden also was indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to trying to purchase fetal tissue.
O’Bannon said "some Planned Parenthood chapters have been selling the body parts of aborted fetuses for profit." As evidence, he points broadly to a series of secretly recorded videos in which anti-abortion advocates - posing undercover as officials of a fake biotech firm seeking to buy fetal tissue for research - met with Planned Parenthood officials.
Planned Parenthood acknowledges that one of its clinics in each of two states - Washington and California - supplies fetal tissue to researchers but says they comply with federal law barring a financial profit from the transactions.
O’Bannon’s statement implicitly accuses Planned Parenthood of breaking the law, so there’s a burden on him to prove the organization profited from sales. He falls short by simply pointing to the videos in which Planned Parenthood officials, under prodding from the undercover activists, say tissues probably could be obtained for $30 to $100 per sample.
A medical ethicist tells us those fees seem to be a "reasonable" reimbursement for the cost of supplying the tissue. An investigation by Washington’s attorney general cleared Planned Parenthood of charges it was profiting from the sales in that state. Investigations in 11 other states also have cleared the organization.
There’s simply nothing that proves O’Bannon’s claim and much that contradicts it. So we rate his statement False.
Del. John O’Bannon, "Del. Obannon’s 2016 Session Survey," accessed Feb. 1, 2016.
Email form Obannon, Feb. 2, 2016.
United States Code, §289g–2. Prohibitions regarding human fetal tissue, accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
The Center for Medical Progress, "Investigative Footage," accessed Feb. 2-3, 2016.
Interview and email with Beth Lynk, state policy press officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Feb. 3, 2016.
PolitiFact, "PolitiFact Sheet: 8 things you need to know about the Planned Parenthood controversy," Aug. 5, 2015.
National Public Radio, "Planned Parenthood Investigations Show No Fetal Tissue Sales," Jan. 28, 2016.
The New York Times, "Planned Parenthood Won’t Accept Money for Fetal Tissue," Oct. 13, 2015.
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