The Senate is planning to vote as soon as Monday to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million in federal funding. The vote comes as Planned Parenthood is coming under fire from anti-choice activists after the release of a series of undercover sting videos were published online. The heavily edited videos suggest the organization profits from supplying aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood said it broke no laws, because abortion providers are allowed to charge costs to cover expenses associated with fetal tissue donation. We speak to Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He previously worked for Planned Parenthood.
AMY GOODMAN: The Senate is planning to vote as soon as Monday to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million in federal funding. The vote comes as Planned Parenthood is coming under fire from anti-choice activists after the release of a series of undercover sting videos were published online. The heavily edited videos suggest that Planned Parenthood profits from supplying aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood, though, says it broke no laws, because abortion providers are allowed to charge costs to cover expenses associated with fetal tissue donation. In one video, Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood appears to discuss the cost of fetal tissue with operatives posing as biotechnology representatives. The clip begins with a fake representative raising the issue of costs.
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: What price range would you—
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: You know, I—I’m going to throw a number out. I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved.
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: The $30 to $100 price range, that’s per specimen that we’re talking about, right?
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: Per specimen.
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Yeah.
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: The unedited version of the video actually shows Dr. Nucatola repeatedly saying Planned Parenthood is not trying to profit off fetal tissue. In this clip, she tells the fake researchers there is no revenue stream at play. Just listen carefully.
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: This is not something—
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: This is not any revenue stream that—
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: —affiliates are looking at. This is a way to offer patients a service that they want, do good for the medical community—
FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.
DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: —and still maintain access.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, House Republicans launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood, claiming it’s harvesting fetal tissue for profit. However, Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, has repeatedly denied these claims.
CECILE RICHARDS: Recently, an organization that opposes safe and legal abortion used secretly recorded, heavily edited videos to make outrageous claims about programs that help women donate fetal tissue for medical research. I want to be really clear: The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true. Our donation programs, like any other high-quality healthcare providers, follows all laws and ethical guidelines. Over our hundred-year history, we’ve continually engaged leading medical experts to shape our practices, policies and high standards, and we always will. Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood’s website was reportedly attacked by anti-choice activists, who took the site offline for hours. The organization tweeted the site was being targeted by anti-abortion extremists.
For more, we’re joined now by two guests. In Los Angeles, we’re joined by Sharona Coutts, vice president of Investigations and Research at RH Reality Check. Her new piece is called “Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos.”
And in Birmingham, Alabama, we’re joined by Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He previously worked for Planned Parenthood and recently wrote an article for Cosmopolitan magazine called “Why I Stand with Dr. Deborah Nucatola.”
Sharona Coutts and Dr. Willie Parker, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Dr. Willie Parker, can you talk about what’s at the heart of this story? Talk about the allegations that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, Amy, it’s a pleasure to be back on your show again. And as I think about what’s happening, two things come to mind. I grew up here in Alabama, and we had a photographer, when I was a kid, who would every year take our picture. And in order to get us to pose, he would say, “Watch the birdie,” to distract us from what he was really trying to do, which was take a great picture. And in that regard, similarly, what’s happening here is a high-stakes game of “watch the birdie.” The picture is the sale of fetal parts and impugning Planned Parenthood, but the real theme is to outlaw abortion.
Second thing is the fact that in a court of law, you know, the credibility of the witness goes a long way. And if you don’t have a credible witness, nothing that they say counts. We know that what’s happening here is an attempt to impugn the integrity of Planned Parenthood using the allegation of the sale of fetal parts, with the ultimate goal of outlawing abortion. This is not new. This is what has always been the case. And the high stakes of this, Amy, is the impairment of very important human science research that can help millions of folk, as well as doing away with very vital abortion services—
AMY GOODMAN: You know—
DR. WILLIE PARKER: —that Planned Parenthood provides.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Parker, I remember when Nancy Reagan, who was extremely anti-choice, broke with other people, who she usually agreed with, on the issue of stem cell research, with her husband who at the time was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and afterwards—Ronald Reagan, of course, the president. She said this is too important. Now, I want to ask about what this fetal tissue research is. Explain what fetal tissue is. And how is it used for medical research? And is it used all over the country or only in certain states?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, Amy, they say, when you stay in your lane, there’s no traffic. And I would be out of my league to talk in depth about fetal tissue research. But what I can tell you is that, using scientific terms, any of the products of conception that are removed—a preborn, a pregnancy that’s not given birth to—all of the parts are called “fetal parts.” And so, there are some—you know, over the years, research has been furthered, to the extent that it can be, by using animal models and the like, but there are some disease processes where in order to make the real breakthroughs, you have to have access to human tissue. The one area where there is the availability of human tissue has been with regard to the tissues that are removed during an abortion process.
The only reason that that tissue would be available is that in every situation that I’ve ever been involved in, even when I worked at Planned Parenthood, there are these heavily regulated, heavily supervised agreements with research facilities, where they procure tissues from places where that tissue is generated. The other side of that is, when women have often approached me as I’ve done their abortions, when they are asking during the information process and the consent process, they will ask, “Is there any way this tissue could be donated for research?” So, the fact that there are disease processes like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, certain dementias, muscular dystrophy and other disease processes that are causing serious problems, the major breakthroughs that have been achieved have come about as a result of human tissue or fetal tissue being made available to further that research.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know what states it’s allowed in and where it isn’t?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Could you say that again? I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what states it’s allowed in and where it isn’t?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: I do not. I can tell you, like most things that are subject to regulations, there are federal guidelines that are overarching, but state to state, it varies. I would say, where you have states that are more liberal and progressive, like California and New York, where there is a heavier reliance on evidence to guide decision making, it may be more liberal to operate in these states as opposed to others.