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Friday, December 9, 2016

In the transcript of an undercover “sting” video released by The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) – in which undercover anti-abortion activists pose as procurers of human tissue – there’s a line attributed to Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

PP: You know, I would love to find a way to frame this, too. And maybe you guys can think about this. You know it’s all about framing.

Buyer: To frame it for affiliates or, you mean publicly.

PP: Yes, to frame this publicly.

It’s intended to shock viewers – this notion that Planned Parenthood needs to frame the issue of donating tissue from fetuses to make it palatable. And the CMP is right: The issue does need to be framed.

Right now, they’re the ones doing the framing.

The videos they’ve released – one on July 14, and then another a week later – purport to show that Planned Parenthood sells tissue from aborted fetuses for a profit, which they contend is against the law.

The videos have triggered an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee; the Texas attorney general; the governors of Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, and Florida. Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have called for legislation to halt any government funding for Planned Parenthood. Republicans in Virginia, PennsylvaniaWisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota have also declared that the organization should be investigated.

Planned Parenthood sent its own letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responding to and elaborating on many of the edits made in the first video, the entirety of which is available for all to see.

But even the unedited first video doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t expose anything actually illegal – though that point can get lost in all the jargon and frank discussion of the medical procedures. While the details discussed can be disconcertingly clinical and graphic – they are, after all, what the CMP wants viewers to focus on – one of the most salient details can easily get lost: Patients often ask for the service. As Dr. Nucatola recounts:

But I think every one of them is happy to know that there’s a possibility for them to do “this extra bit of good,” in what they do. And I think patients respond most to knowing the types of outcomes that it might contribute to, so for example Alzheimer’s research, Parkinson’s research. I think most of these patients have some experience with at least one of these conditions or another.

It’s a theme she repeats throughout the conversation: Patients consent to having their tissue donated.

Despite what some Republican lawmakers and the people behind the CMP want you to believe, Planned Parenthood isn’t doing anything wrong.

But the Center for Medical Progress is.

Neither Dr. Nucatola nor Dr. Mary Gatter, the president of the Medical Directors’ Council at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the medical director of Planned Parenthood Pasadena & San Gabriel Valley who was questioned in the second video, was aware that they were being filmed. Under California law, recording a conversation that involves confidential information requires the consent of both parties. As RH Reality Check explains, not only can those who were secretly recorded sue for financial loss, “they can also sue to enjoin, or block, future releases of private recordings.” And that’s hardly the only way The Center for Medical Progress can be sued six ways to Sunday.

As Amanda Marcotte at Slate reported, the CMP is essentially a front for a notorious anti-abortion group, Live Action, and is connected to James O’Keefe, a right winger known for creating similar sting videos that attack liberal organizations and politicians. Although the CMP has been around since 2013, it hasn’t done much to make itself credible to the outside world, and its social media presence is quite nascent.

And yet, in 2013, the IRS granted the organization tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, due to its stated purpose that it was a biomedical charity “concerned about contemporary bioethical issues,” as it says on its current website. Its original “about us” page, viewable via the Internet archive site Wayback Machine, said it focused on “the latest advances in regenerative medicine, cell-based therapies, and related disciplines,” and asked for donations to keep it running. But, according to the Huffington Post, groups that support criminalizing abortion have their own IRS classification code. Bruce Hopkins, an attorney who specializes in nonprofit law, told the Huffington Post that “a nonprofit misleading its donors about the nature of its work” is fraud, both civil and criminal.

“The authorities have the right to shut down the charity, and the individuals behind the fraud can go to prison or pay a substantial fine,” Hopkins said.

The CMP is actually part of a network of anti-abortion groups and politicians, many of which are known for attacking Planned Parenthood and clinics. For Republicans, the videos are a useful ruse to defund Planned Parenthood, something they tried and failed to do in 2011 – and in case anyone doubts the political intentions at work, at least two anti-choice Republicans were made aware of the videos weeks before they were publicly released.

Abortion will remain a divisive topic, but unjustified attacks and shady practices do neither side any favors.

Photo: A still from the first video in the CMP’s “sting operation” against Planned Parenthood, with Dr. Deborah Nucatola talking to an unnamed “buyer” from a front group not identified in the video. The buyer is an actor purporting to be from Biomedical Procurement Services, a fake company that would accept fetal tissue. The Center for Medical Progress/YouTube

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