See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.
The anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published its tenth video on Tuesday, the fourth video in its “Human Capital” project web series. The videos are part of a campaign involving anti-choice activists and Republican legislators against Planned Parenthood and organizations involved in fetal tissue research.
The footage of the conversations was surreptitiously recorded during a February 2015 conference for reproductive health-care professionals. Planned Parenthood employees Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, and Deborah VanDerhei are featured in the video discussing the organization’s “secretive” policies and practices concerning fetal tissue donation.
Most of the footage appears to be recorded during informal receptions when attendees were speaking extemporaneously to David Daleiden, the project leader at CMP and the anti-choice front group’s figurehead, as he posed as a representative from a company that procures fetal tissue.
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The heavily edited, secretly recorded conversations are edited together and with previously released footage of other Planned Parenthood employees. The video often focuses on conversations about researchers’ needs for specific fetal tissue and the organization’s policies for accommodating those needs.
The video creates a narrative that portrays the organization attempting to gain a financial benefit from fetal tissue donation, while also willfully disregarding federal law.
“This is important. This could destroy your organization and us, if we don’t time those conversations correctly,” Cullins, the vice president of external medical affairs, said at one point in the video.
CMP claims that this statement shows an awareness by Planned Parenthood officials of “criminal exposure.”
However, the “full footage” of the conversation with Cullins shows that statement was made while she was discussing the stigma surrounding abortion and stem cell research, and the difficulties that creates in publicly discussing fetal tissue donation.
“I think definitely we need to have a better take on stem cell research before—people need to be talking about abortion in a more open way without the stigma—and then you start bringing in the issues of tissue research,” Cullins said.
The video includes footage of a conversation between VanDerhei, the national director of the Consortium of Abortion Providers, and Vanessa Russo, compliance program administrator for Planned Parenthood Keystone in Pennsylvania. Russo speaks frankly about her view on how the organization should engage publicly in conversations, and not participate in “ridiculous social discussions.”
VanDerhei responds to Russo’s comments by noting congressional hearings and allegations made against Planned Parenthood—comments that are reminiscent of the current political fallout from the CMP videos.
“There was a person, a person that said Planned Parenthood had changed the way it does its procedures so that they can collect tissue so that they can sell tissue,” VanDerhei said. “It turned out that was false … but it sparked a congressional hearing and some federal legislation and that’s where that came from.”
Mark Crutcher, an anti-choice activist based in Texas who leads the Life Dynamics organization, conducted a similar “undercover investigation” in 1997 and claimed then that Planned Parenthood was involved in illegally selling fetal tissue. The Kansas clinic that Life Dynamics claimed was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissues, prompted a 20/20 hidden camera investigation and congressional hearings.
The FBI investigated the Overland Park clinic and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“So we just want to not have to repeat that again. And there are a lot of—there are Planned Parenthoods that participate in donation programs that are reimbursed for it,” VanDerhei said.
CMP has continued to claim that Planned Parenthood is engaged in illegally selling fetal tissue, despite numerous investigations that have concluded that the organization has broken no law.
Federal law bans the sale of fetal tissue. However, the law specifically allows organizations involved in donating any tissue or organ for research to make and receive “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”
Congressional Republicans have used the videos to justify a failed attempt to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for services unrelated to abortion. Republicans last held a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that featured no witnesses from either Planned Parenthood or CMP, and this week they are expected to vote yet again on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood for one year unless it stops offering abortion care.