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Undercover Planned Parenthood video stokes abortion debate

A hidden camera video showing a Planned Parenthood staff member discussing the transfer of fetal tissue has enflamed the longstanding abortion debate; conservative lawmakers have called for investigations. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports, offering a look at the unedited version of the video.

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    This week, a group of abortion rights opponents released a hidden camera video of a conversation with an official from Planned Parenthood. That’s the nonprofit organization that provides reproductive and other health care services, including abortion, to women and families.

    Our political editor, Lisa Desjardins, screened both the edited and unedited versions of the video and reports on the footage that is causing a political firestorm.

  • A warning:

    Some of the images and details in this story are graphic.


    This is the edited version of the video, with the undercover anti-abortion group’s added graphics.

    On screen is Dr. Deborah Nucatola, national medical director for Planned Parenthood. Off screen are two anti-abortion activists who spent months posing as medical researchers looking to purchase fetal tissue.

  • WOMAN:

    You know, I would throw a number out, and I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved.


    The undercover team later asks about buying specific fetal parts. A warning: This excerpt is graphic and may be disturbing.

  • WOMAN:

    It makes a huge difference. I’d say a lot of people want liver.

    Exactly. So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not going to crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m going to crush above, and I’m going to see if I can get it all intact.


    The legal question here is, is Planned Parenthood, provider of 40 percent of abortions in the U.S., selling fetal tissue? That is illegal.

    But donating fetal tissue or recovering your costs from such a donation, that’s legal. And it’s part of a fast-growing medical research field.

    Some cells are used to help patients with immune disease or for things like Alzheimer’s research. The potential controversy here is whether Planned Parenthood is profiting from the aborted fetal tissue. In a video statement, Planned Parenthood director Cecile Richards said absolutely not.

  • CECILE RICHARDS, President, Planned Parenthood:

    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.


    Richards did apologize for the tone the staff member took.


    This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.


    The NewsHour reviewed the nearly three-hour unedited video. In it, Planned Parenthood repeatedly stresses that tissue transfers are for research, and clinics can only charge to recoup their costs.

  • WOMAN:

    To them, this is not a service they should be making money from. It’s something they should be able to offer this to their patients, in a way that doesn’t impact them.

  • WOMAN:

    Offsetting their costs. That’s all it is.

  • WOMAN:

    Yes. No one’s going to see this as a moneymaking thing.


    This is a repeated theme in the whole video and absent from the Web posts.

  • WOMAN:

    Nobody should be selling tissue. That’s just not the goal here.


    The video has inflamed the long-heated abortion debate and Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner have pounced.

  • REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), Speaker of the House:

    Now, if you have seen this video, I don’t have to tell you how sickening it is. So, rest assured, we’re going to get to the bottom of this and protect the values that we hold dear.


    For presidential candidates courting conservatives it is an easy target. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wants a Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has launched a state investigation. Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants a congressional investigation.

    And half-a-dozen others from Scott Walker to Jeb Bush have expressed outrage and alarm across social media. But as Republicans dig in, so does Planned Parenthood.


    We know the real agenda of organizations behind videos like this, and they have never been concerned with protecting the health and safety of women.

    Their mission is to ban abortion completely and cut women off from care at Planned Parenthood and other health centers. And we will never let that happen.


    An undercover video opened a very public next round in the nation’s abortion debate.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins in Washington.

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