October 14, 2015 — Planned Parenthood Federation of America on Tuesday announced that while it will maintain fetal tissue donation programs at some clinics, it no longer will accept reimbursements for the cost of the program, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 10/13).
Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program was targeted in a series of misleading videos released this summer by the antiabortion-rights group Center for Medical Progress. Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. In August, the organization submitted a report to Congress that found the videos were manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27).
Three House committees have investigated Planned Parenthood following the videos' release. In addition, the House last week voted to create a special subcommittee to investigate abortion procedures and fetal tissue procurement (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/9). According to the Wall Street Journal, the investigations have not found that Planned Parenthood committed any wrongdoing (Armour, Wall Street Journal, 10/13).
Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers in the House are trying to end federal funding for the organization by using the budget reconciliation progress, which allows certain legislation to advance in the Senate with a simple majority vote (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/1). Several states also have taken steps to end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, despite warnings from HHS that doing so might be illegal (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/5).
PPFA President Cecile Richards made the announcement about the organization's fetal tissue donation program in a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins.
Richards wrote, "Planned Parenthood's policies on fetal tissue donation already exceed the legal requirements," noting, "Now we're going even further in order to take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda" (AP/New York Times, 10/13).
Richards added, "The real goal of these extremists has nothing to do with our fetal tissue donation compliance process but is instead to ban abortion in the U.S. and block women from getting any health care from Planned Parenthood ... Today, we're taking their smokescreen away." She wrote, "Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue, and to expose our opponents' false charges about this limited but important work" (Wall Street Journal, 10/13).
According to Planned Parenthood, roughly six clinics -- in California and Washington state -- provide opportunities for patients to donate fetal tissue. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president at Planned Parenthood, said the affiliate in Washington state already does not accept reimbursements for its fetal tissue donation program, and the California affiliate now will adopt the same policy.
Laguens said, "I don't think it will have a huge impact on their budget ... For Planned Parenthood, this was always about one thing -- honoring the desire of women to contribute to lifesaving research. It was never about money" (AP/New York Times, 10/13).
Separately, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Planned Parenthood's decision "makes total sense." He added, "Even though the law allows for reasonable expenses, this change eliminates any remaining argument by opponents and demonstrates how critical this type of research is for millions of Americans" (Wall Street Journal, 10/13).