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From the Lunch Table to the Dissection Table: The Latest Planned Parenthood Pricing Parts Video

(UPDATED) 'Another boy!' says fetal tissue procurement tech as medical director discusses strategy to avoid legal problems.
From the Lunch Table to the Dissection Table: The Latest Planned Parenthood Pricing Parts Video
Image: Center for Medical Progress
Holly O’Donnell, a former StemExpress employee, says she was trained to sort fetal tissue as part of her job

Update (July 30): A Planned Parenthood medical director in Colorado discussed in April how to talk about the organization's procurement of fetal tissue and body parts as "research," not as a business transaction to avoid violating federal law. This is featured in the fourth video from the pro-life Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

"Putting it under ‘research’ gives us a little bit of an overhang over the whole thing,” said Savita Ginde, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), an affiliate that performs 10,000 abortions per year. "If you have someone in a really anti state who’s going to be doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught." The comments were made as CMP plants recorded the discussion with an undercover video camera.

Later in a lab, a PPRM lab tech exclaims, "Another boy!" as the fetal body parts are examined to determine if they are not too "war-torn" and could be processed and shipped to a research lab.

CMP used two people to pose as procurement middlemen to expose the allegedly criminal trade in fetal body parts and tissue. Ginde in another clip from the video says that PPRM asked its attorney to address the legality of tissue procurement.

“He’s got it figured out that he knows that even if, because we talked to him in the beginning, you know, we were like, ‘We don’t want to get called on,’ you know, ‘selling fetal parts across states,’ ”

The CMP plant asks, “And you feel confident that they’re building those layers?”

Ginde replies, “I’m confident that our legal will make sure we’re not put in that situation.”

Late on Wednesday, a California court issued a temporary restraining order, barring CMP from releasing videos that show images of leaders from a tissue procurement company that works with Planned Parenthood.

At issue is any undercover video shot during a May meeting between leaders of StemExpress, which sells tissue to researchers, and activists from CMP.

The order remains in place until a hearing on August 19, according to the Associated Press. Lawyers for StemExpress allege CMP violated California's anti-wiretapping law when it videotaped a lunch meeting with StemExpress leaders without their knowledge. California law requires "two-party" consent, meaning that all parties must be aware that a recording (audio or video) is taking place of a private conversation.

In response, CMP posted a statement on their website:

StemExpress, a for-profit company partnered with over 30 abortion clinics, including Planned Parenthood, to harvest and sell aborted baby parts and provide a “financial benefit” to Planned Parenthood clinics, is attempting to use meritless litigation to cover-up this illegal baby parts trade, suppress free speech, and silence the citizen press reporting on issues of burning concern to the American public. They are not succeeding—their initial petition was rejected by the court, and their second petition was eviscerated to a narrow and contingent order about an alleged recording pending CMP’s opportunity to respond. The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of our investigative journalism work and will contest all attempts from Planned Parenthood and their allies to silence our First Amendment rights and suppress investigative journalism.


[First posted on July 28]

In late 2012, Holly O’Donnell began her new job at StemExpressLLC, based in Placerville, California. She expected the firm to use her skill in drawing blood from patients as a licensed phlebotomist.

Instead, on her first day, O'Donnell was assigned to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Concord, California. There she was trained to sort through fetal tissue from an elective abortion. She recalled passing out after being told to pick up a fetal leg with tweezers.

“I thought I was going to be just drawing blood, not procuring tissue from aborted fetuses,” O’Donnell said during an interview in the latest undercover video from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). “I was looking to help the public and make blood draws easy,” the 24-year-old said. She quit her job after six months.

Human fetal tissue is in high demand from American biomedical research labs—whether for-profit, academic, or government. It’s a big business where scientists seek miracle cures to paralysis, Alzheimer’s, and other life-threatening diseases, in order to develop products for the commercial market.

StemExpress describes itself as “a multi-million dollar company that supplies human blood, tissue products, primary cells and other clinical specimens to biomedical researchers,” according to the company website. “Founded in 2010, we offer the largest variety of raw material in the industry, as well as fresh, fixed and cryopreserved human primary cells.”

Among the company’s products: a vial of 5 million frozen fetal liver stem cells for $24,250.

Some of the company’s revenue comes from federal contracts.

The National Institutes of Health awarded contracts totaling $76 million in 2014 to biomedical scientists for fetal tissue research. Some of those funds are paid to companies like StemExpress, which procure the tissue.

Federal funding for basic research using fetal tissue has increased by 16 percent since 2011, and is projected to be $77 million for the coming year.

O’Donnell said that she witnessed Planned Parenthood staff procuring tissue donations that fit StemExpress’s needs.

“For whatever we could procure, they would get a certain percentage,” she said in her interview on the video. “The main nurse was always trying to make sure we got our specimens. No one else really cared, but the main nurse did because she knew that Planned Parenthood was getting compensated.”

An undercover portion of the 11-minute video, released Tuesday, shows a top Planned Parenthood leader talking with an actor from CMP, posing as a representative of a tissue procurement company. The two discuss reimbursement on a per-specimen versus a per-fetus basis. In the background, a technician uses tweezers to sort through post-abortion fetal tissue to fill orders for researchers.

“I think the per-item [pricing] works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it,” the PPFA leader said on the video.

StemExpress offered a bonus plan of up to $75 per specimen if its techicians were able obtain the fetal organs most valued by researchers.

Pro-life leaders said this newest video reveals the “grisly reality” of abortion.

"To hear these senior Planned Parenthood doctors and executives coldly pricing baby body parts—liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, brains, and limbs—with such casual disregard for the unborn children killed to obtain those parts is reprehensible," said Carol Tobias, National Right to Life president.

In Washington, members of Congress are pressing forward with efforts to defund the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), which receives about $540 million per year from the federal government to provide contraception and health services to women.

On Sunday, Senate Republican leaders blocked an amendment to a federal highway bill that would have ended PPFA’s funding. Another attempt to force a vote on the funding failed Tuesday. It may come up for a vote early next week. Several congressional committees are proceeding with investigative hearings on PPFA’s fetal tissue practices. Those are unlikely to occur before September.

PPFA denies that it has violated any federal laws or regulations. Any compensation, they say, is legal reimbursement for costs. But CMP and many other pro-life groups allege PPFA has violated criminal federal law banning the sale of human fetal tissue or body parts.

As CT reported in 2000, payments for fetal tissue donations are allowed under a loophole in the 1993 federal rules that ban the sale of fetal remains. Those rules allow “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control or storage of human fetal tissue.” No guidelines are given for “reasonable payments.”

Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan toldThe New York Times that there is likely "little or no oversight of processing fees."

“It appears to be legal, no matter how much you charge,” Caplan told the NYT.

At least one state bans any payment for fetal remains from an abortion. Tennessee law bars "money or anything of value" being exchanged for an aborted fetus.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton lifted the ban on federal funding for fetal tissue research, resulting in extensive federal contracts for research.

Back in April 2001, the American Society for Cell Biology issued a two-page "talking points" memo, justifying the use of fetal tissue and cells in medical research. The society said since the 1930s, researchers have used fetal issue. In the 1950s, fetal kidney cells were used in developing the polio vaccine.

But the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute said more recent fetal tissue research has largely proven to be unsuccessful.

“Human fetal tissue research has gone on for decades. However, the success of fetal tissue transplants has been meager at best, and ethically derived alternatives exist and are coming to dominate the field,” the institute said in a July 27 statement.

Over the last 15 years, there have been no successful clinical trials in which fetal cell transplantation into patients resulted in patient improvement.

“Disastrous results for patients are seen not only with fetal tissue but also with fetal stem cells,” the institute said. “In a recent example, a young boy developed tumors on his spine, resulting from fetal stem cells injected into his body.”

CMP has not yet released the full unedited version of the interviews it conducted for the lastest video. The group says it plans to release around a dozen videos about Planned Parenthood.

The release date for the next installment has not been disclosed.

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