Sniping, Not Debating: The Center for Medical Progress Videos

The following guest post comes to us via a Planned Parenthood Arizona volunteer.

health care providersI watched or read the first few full-length videos and transcripts posted by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) beginning July 25, 2015. No doubt, coming weeks will bring more videos, but I would be surprised if they stray from themes of this first batch. In a nutshell, the heavily edited videos assert that uncompassionate Planned Parenthood representatives violate laws against collecting and selling fetal tissue for profit, “haggle” over pricing, and discuss abortion procedures and tissue in a distasteful, chilling manner.

I’m pretty weary of (though never surprised by) folks who oppose a woman’s right to make her own child-bearing decisions. Why? In this case, opponents refuse to stand and fight on the merits of their arguments. Instead, they use sniping tactics that trigger emotions and ignore facts.

CMP selected snippets of their hidden-camera videos to concoct a narrative not supported by the unedited videos. Consider these snippets they left out.

Planned Parenthood affiliates help WOMEN donate THEIR fetal tissue for medical research.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, spoke of the demand for fetal tissue donation programs:

“Patients will call up, make an appointment, and say, ‘I would like to donate my tissue.’ And the affiliates are really feeling like, ‘Oh, wow, I really need to figure out a way to get this done.’ Because patients are talking about — you know, in general, in health care, a provider is not going to offer a service unless there’s demand. And there is a demand now, I mean, women know that this is something that they can do.”

Planned Parenthood affiliates recover costs; they don’t “sell baby parts for profit.”

Consider this conversation between Dr. Nucatola and CMP’s actor posing as a representative for a new research tissue procurement company:

Dr. Nucatola: “To them [an affiliate], this is not a service they should be making money from, it’s something they should be able to offer this to their patients, in a way that doesn’t impact them.”

Actor: “Offsetting their costs.”

Dr. Nucatola: “Right. No one’s going to see this as a money-making thing.”

Melissa Farrell, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s director of research, spoke about what it takes to provide research tissue:

“I need to know everything that’s involved, have it in writing so that I can sit down with the parties involved actually doing the work, so I can say, ‘OK guys, let’s work this out now.’ And we even will go as far as to have timed trials where we go up there with a stopwatch and time how much, so we can at least know what our cost is. Because I think, in terms of budgeting, if you don’t even know your cost, how can you develop a budget to cover that?”

Planned Parenthood employees are caring, professional people, dedicated to the women they serve.

Savita Ginde, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ vice president and medical director, is the mother of 9-month-old twin boys, and coordinates childcare with her husband so she can keep commitments to her clients. Every Tuesday, her clinic day, she leaves home at 6:45 a.m. and does not finish until as late as 7:30 p.m.

Dr. Nucatola shares why she chose a career in family planning:

“February 28, 1998, was my last day of GYN ever as a resident and then I would be done. July I would graduate and then I would be an ob/gyn. And on that day, there was a patient that was transferred to me, from an outside clinic, who had had a D&E, dilation and evacuation, late second-trimester abortion, she was bleeding … I met her in the emergency room and I saw her and she was as white as this napkin, and I still remember her name, I remember everything about her, and she looked up at me, and she said, “Don’t let me die.” And she actually bled to death. We did a hysterectomy in about 12 minutes and she died. It was very distressing and very upsetting. I probably had a very different reaction than most people would, which was, well, I do D&Es all the time, and I don’t ever have complications. And I think I’m pretty good at them, I need to keep making sure that there are lots of people doing these D&Es safely so there’s not another patient like this. That was the day I said I’m not doing perinatology, which is high-risk OB, I’m going to do family planning, and I’m going to train others to do family planning.”

Technical discussions between medical professionals are necessarily blunt, factual, and stripped of emotion.

Every person in the video conversations was a medical professional or, in the case of the CMP actors, claimed to be. Of course they would discuss fetal anatomy and the particular (and legal) surgical techniques for minimizing damage to tissue bound for medical research.

Post-operative examination of fetal tissue is a necessity, not a shocking, ghoulish activity.

The videos breeze by any explanation of why the pathology lab technicians thoroughly inspect “products of conception” (e.g., fetal parts, placenta) after an abortion procedure. If anything is missing, then it’s probably still in the woman’s uterus and can cause life-threatening complications. The CMP actors, pretending to need fetal tissue for medical researchers, were granted lab visits to see first-hand what organs might result from various lengths of gestation.

When I finished all the videos, knowing how few Planned Parenthood affiliates are even able to include fetal tissue donation in their program offerings, I asked myself, “Why do they bother offering women the opportunity to donate their fetal tissue to medical researchers? Why do they sign up for all this grief? Wouldn’t it be easier to tell clients there is no option but to dispose of all their tissue? Wouldn’t it be easier to tell researchers working to develop vaccines and find treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, and eyesight loss that they will have to make do with whatever tissue they can find elsewhere?” Sure, it would be easier.

But, for those organizations that are able to do so, offering these services is the right thing to do — for both the researchers who use the tissue, and the patients who wish to contribute to medical science.