Exposé brings claims of callousness in US

The dark side of the abortion industry is laid bare, writes Paul Keenan

The abortion debate exploded into a ferocious pitched battle in America over the past week, although many on this side of the Atlantic will have missed the whole thing.

Those beyond American borders not au fait with social media will certainly not have been privy to the ‘Planned Parenthood sting’, such was the absence of coverage on the part of non-US-based news outlets.

For those using Twitter and perhaps accessing blogs, however, an eight-minute video at the heart of this story served as an all-illuminating flare over the abortion battlefield and those sides engaged in the battle.

The story begins simply enough. A group of pro-life activists, operating as members of the Centre for Medical Progress, went undercover to pose as representatives of a medical research facility seeking human tissue and organs for research.

Organising a meeting with a representative of Planned Parenthood, the largest supplier of terminations across the US, the undercover activists attended a meal with Dr Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, and secretly filmed the subsequent conversation on the supply of harvested body parts from terminated fetuses.


Approximately three hours of footage in all were gained, with an edited eight minutes subsequently released showing Dr Nucatola describing the readiness of Planned Parenthood to supply body parts, and the monetary aspects of such supply. Cue the firestorm of anger on all sides.

Amid claims that Planned Parenthood was actively engaged in profiting through sales of fetal body parts, pro-life supporters expressed outrage and called for Planned Parenthood to be stripped of funding. No fewer than six states – Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin – announced immediate investigations into Planned Parenthood operations on foot of the video’s contents.

Meanwhile, with the 2016 presidential campaign heating up by the day, declared hopefuls within the Republican camp were not slow to denounce the culture of death discussed over salad and wine in the footage, with Jeb Bush denouncing it as “a shocking and horrific reminder that we must do so much more to foster a culture of life in America”, and Rick Perry describing the “disturbing reminder of the organisation’s penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life”.

In Washington DC, legislators reacted with calls for a full investigation of Planned Parenthood. Republican House Speaker John Boehner signalled that he had contacted the relevant House committees towards such action. “When an organisation monetises an unborn child, and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video, we must all act,” he said.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce subsequently announced it was to investigate the matter.

Planned Parenthood moved quickly to address the issues raised in the video, with its president, Cecile Richards, issuing her own video statement to apologise for Dr Nucatola’s “tone and statements” while insisting that Planned Parenthood was acting fully within US law in supplying to research facilities ‘tissue’ with the full consent of women who have sought terminations, and within financial parameters on shipping and transfer costs.

Speaking with a ‘legal tongue’, Richards is correct on those federal aspects affecting the use of body parts for research purposes, abhorrent as it is to the pro-life perspective.

However, at the time of writing, the Centre for Medical Progress is promising further footage which it claims will pull down the pillars about Cecile Richards and her organisation and prove that a marketplace of profit from aborted babies exists in the country.

“We let them dig a big hole for themselves, and now they’re going to have to jump in it,” said Troy Newman, a pro-life campaigner with links to the Centre for Medical Progress.

For the sake of dedicated pro-life advocates, Newman had better be right.

In releasing its original eight-minute segment, the Centre for Medical Progress immediately became the focus of pro-abortion rage and commentary no less impassioned than those on the pro-life side.

Observers of the footage immediately denounced what they saw as selective editing to paint Planned Parenthood in the worst possible light, while pointing out that at no stage did Dr Nucatola discuss monetary profit for parts – keeping her within the law – and described the activists’ undercover filming as “creative deviousness” and the online reactions as “unhinged screeching”.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi insisted there had “been a kind of misrepresentation of the conversation that took place in the transcript in the conversation in the video”, adding, “I don’t know why they need an investigation”.

So much of this can be readily dismissed by readers of this newspaper, but it would be a serious mistake in the ongoing abortion struggle.

Among those seeking to undermine the actions of the Centre for Medical Progress are investigators who have already pointed out that the video footage of Dr Nucatola, captured in the state of California, is a criminal offence unless she consented to being filmed.

A minor transgression for the greater good, one might argue, but it is not the only one now being alleged.

Founded in 2013, the Centre for Medical Progress billed itself as a research-led journalistic enterprise on biomedical issues, aiming to offer all perspectives in the abortion debate. As such, it gained charitable status from the Internal Revenue Service. Now, however, the only apparent result of its years in operation is the exposé of Planned Parenthood, potentially sparking a fraud investigation.

On top of this, the centre is now being linked to the pro-life group Live Action, a body which has faced criticism for previous video outings on Planned Parenthood, exposés which have dented Live Action more than its target.

The abortion fight may well stand as one of right versus wrong, but the Centre for Medical Progress and Live Action do not help their own cause should their actions serve only to hand a propaganda victory to the other side.

This would be a tragedy as there are elements of the latest video which serve the pro-life drive if they are not already lost in the propaganda wars.

For example, in discussing the physical undertaking of an abortion towards securing select ‘tissue’, Dr Nucatola comes dangerously close to conceding that physicians alter their actions so as to prevent damage to parts such as heads, liver, lungs or heart, for example. But this, apparently, is a focusing on those parts over the ‘compassionate care’ Planned Parenthood guarantees to the woman on the operating table. At least one pro-abortion commentator conceded that this aspect of the video cannot easily be justified.

At a time when numerous states are beginning to rein in the operations of abortion clinics amid something of a societal rethink, the Planned Parenthood sting illustrates how far American society has yet to go. White House hopeful Dr Ben Barnes perhaps voiced it best in his own reaction to the use – legal or illegal – of fetal body parts.

 “What’s really disturbing,” he said, “is the fact that we have become so callous that a lot of people don’t even realise that this is shocking, to see the callousness with which we are treating human life.”human life.”