Since July, anti-abortion activists have released a series of videos looking to smear Planned Parenthood, a major women’s healthcare and abortion provider in the United States.
On Tuesday, after multiple state and congressional investigations, Planned Parenthood announced it would stop seeking reimbursements for its fetal tissue donation program, despite insistence that its affiliates did not break the law.
How did all this start?Anti-abortion activists at the Center for Medical Progress released the first Planned Parenthood “sting” video in July, which showed medical director Deborah Nucatola discussing reimbursements for fetal tissue donations of between $30 and $100.
The Center for Medical Progress alleged that videos – of which there were roughly 10, heavily edited and filmed with hidden cameras – show top executives of Planned Parenthood illegally selling aborted fetal tissue. They did not.
This money is usually paid by tissue procurement companies, such as StemExpress Inc, which prepare the materials for use by scientists. Planned Parenthood used the reimbursements to cover the expense of collecting and preparing such materials. The law that governs such transactions dates back to the 1990s, when the use of stem cells was widely debated.
How did people react to these videos?The videos galvanized a reaction against Planned Parenthood among pro-life activists and politicians.
Republican attorney generals, state and congressional lawmakers started investigations immediately in more than a dozen states, and began hearings into whether Planned Parenthood broke the law. No fewer than fourHouse committees and one special committee are looking into the allegations, and Republican presidential candidates have seized upon the videos, some, like Carly Fiorina, making patently false statements about their content.
What did the investigations find?Most found nothing.
Investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, South Dakota and Pennsylvania ended after it was found that Planned Parenthood did not break the law. In most of those states, Planned Parenthood never had a fetal tissue donation program.
Delaware, Idaho, Virginia, New Hampshire and Minnesota flat-out refused to investigate. In Tennessee and Texas lawmakers held fact-finding sessions. Arizonalaunched an investigation, but it doesn’t appear results have been announced (the state already tried to defund the organization once in 2012 – it lost in court). Florida launched an investigation into clinics in the state, and cited two clinics for performing second-trimester abortions after it appears to have changed a definition of the procedure – Planned Parenthood is suing. Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, said his investigation into Planned Parenthood is “ ongoing ”.
Does that mean there were no consequences for Planned Parenthood?Quite the opposite, actually.
Since the videos began, Republican presidential candidates have stoked conservative anger by making outlandish and false statements. Four clinics have been the victims of arson, including two similar firebombings in Washington state and California.
In the House, Republicans attempted to attach a rider to a short-term spending bill that would have placed a one-year moratorium on federal funding to Planned Parenthood, worth about $500m.
Most of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes through Medicaid (including the bulk of that $500m Republicans in the House wanted to stop). The program is run jointly by states and the federal government, and provides healthcare for the poor, people that Planned Parenthood disproportionately provides care to. This means that not only were Republicans in Congress attacking this funding source, but so were states.
Alabama, Utah, Louisiana and Arkansas all ended Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood – something that the federal Department of Health and Human Services warned states not to do.
These same states have argued there are other providers that could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients, though most have struggled to prove that. InLouisiana, the state responded in a lawsuit with a list of providers it believed could provide the care that Planned Parenthood does but turned out not to provide gynecological services at all – dentists and cosmetic surgeons filled out the list.
In Missouri, state lawmakers have pressured the University of Missouri hospital to end agreements that gave admitting privileges to abortion providers – a requirement imposed on abortion providers by lawmakers themselves. The university has also canceled 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood affiliates in four states that allowed nurses and doctors to train at Planned Parenthood clinics for academic credit, ending a 26-year relationship.
If Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong, why did it stop taking reimbursements for donated fetal tissue?The organization’s decision to stop seeking reimbursements for the donations was announced in a letter sent to the National Institutes of Health from Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, on Tuesday.
In it, she said she wanted to defuse an issue that represents only a sliver of its overall work (it was available at only two clinics out of its network of more than 700).
In states such as Oregon, one of the few places where fetal tissue can be transferred for research, the tissue is used in studies of stillbirths and pregnancy complications. Many other states, such as Georgia, require that fetal remains be cremated or buried.
“Our decision not to take any reimbursement for expenses should not be interpreted as a suggestion that anyone else should not take reimbursement or that the law in this area isn’t strong,” said Richards. “Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue, and to expose our opponents’ false charges about this limited but important work.”
Planned Parenthood’s vice-president, Dawn Laguens, echoed Richards’ sentiment: “ We’re not caving,” she said.
So, did that satisfy the organization’s opponents?No.
“While Planned Parenthood and other organizations may try to publicly distance themselves from the gruesome industry of selling of fetal baby parts, today’s announcement does not change the facts of the investigation,” the House speaker, John Boehner, said in a statement on Tuesday.
CMP’s leader, David Daleiden, echoed that sentiment, saying: “If the money Planned Parenthood has been receiving for baby body parts were truly legitimate ‘reimbursement,’ why cancel it?”