Planned Parenthood exec, fetal body parts subject of controversial video

Posted at 8:35 AM, Jul 15, 2015

NEW YORK -- An anti-abortion group released a controversial online video Tuesday purportedly showing a top official at Planned Parenthood talking about body parts of aborted fetuses. The group contends the video is proof that Planned Parenthood sells organs and tissues according to a news release from the Center for Medical Progress.

Planned Parenthood says the money discussed on tape had to do with the cost to transport donated tissue.

The advocacy group and provider of reproductive health services and education said that there is nothing unethical going on in the video, and Dr. Deborah Nucatola -- the senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- was talking about the organization's participation in tissue donation programs.

There were two versions of the video posted on YouTube -- an eight-minute, 51-second version and a "full" version that is two hours and 42 minutes.

The Center for Medical Progress says the video was shot on July 25, 2014 in a California restaurant over lunch. Two actors pose as employees of a human biologics company.

"Planned Parenthood's criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts reaches to the very highest levels of their organization," said David Daleiden, who led the undercover project, in the written statement.

In one part of the video, the doctor tells the undercover actors: "Every provider has had patients who want to donate their tissue, and they absolutely want to accommodate them. They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as 'This clinic is selling tissue. This clinic is making money off of this."

The video jumps then about one minute, according to a time code in the bottom left corner, and one of the actors asks Nucatola about prices.

"OK, so when you are, or the (Planned Parenthood) affiliate is determining what that monetary ... so that it doesn't raise any question of this is what it's about, this is the main, what price range would you," the woman asks, her question trailing off.

The doctor answers it would be between $30 and $100 per specimen, with consideration for what facility is used and "what's involved."

In the longer version of the video, she continues: "It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there who is going to be doing everything or is their staff going to be doing it, what exactly are they going to be doing, is there shipping involved or is someone coming to pick it up?"

She doesn't specifically say that price is for the purchase of the tissue, but the comment troubled bioethicist Art Caplan of New York University, who said it sounds like Planned Parenthood might be trying to make a profit.

But Planned Parenthood said it makes no profit.

"In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field," it said.

The organization said it takes tissue donations with "full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standard."

Selling fetal body parts is against federal law.

Ethicist: Sole concern should be mother and her health

Caplan was also concerned about another part of the video where Nucatola talks about doctors doing abortions where ultrasound is used to know where to grab the fetus with forceps.

"We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver because we know that, I'm not going to crush that part," the doctor says.

Caplan told CNN's Elizabeth Cohen that altering procedures in order to get tissue in the best condition would be a "big no-no."

"In abortion the primary goal is to give the safest abortion possible," he said. "Your sole concern has to be the mother and her health."

He said there's a parallel in patient care: When someone is dying, doctors shouldn't change how they treat the patient in order to harvest good tissue for donation after death.

Doctors should treat the patient as they normally would, and then use whatever is available after death. If a provider is considering how to get the tissue that's in the best shape, "that's a huge conflict of interest ... If you modify how someone dies, that's unethical."

Back-and-forth accusations

The Center for Medical Progress responded to Planned Parenthood's written statement about the video and accused Planned Parenthood of lying about obtaining consent from patients and not making a profit on the tissue transactions.

Planned Parenthood said the anti-abortion group was the one that was lying.

"A well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood's mission and services has promoted a heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research," it said.

It accused the Center for Medical Process of manipulating the video through editing.

As of midnight ET, the shorter version of the video had been viewed at least 650,000 times.

CNN's Sam Stringer and Debra Goldschmidt contributed to this report.