On Tuesday a group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress released yet another sting video in which activists posing as workers for a tissue procurement company strike up a blunt, at times disquieting conversation with abortion providers about fetal tissue donation.
The undercover footage, the latest in a series of videos the anti-abortion group began to release online this summer, is the second to feature a Texas Planned Parenthood staffer. And the video, just like the others, presents no evidence Planned Parenthood broke the law in how it preserves organs and fetal tissue for medical research, let alone that any Planned Parenthood clinic illegally profited from tissue and organ donations.
Which probably doesn't matter, at least not to Texas officials, who last week cited the Center's sting videos as evidence the organization is “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner.” Claiming they'd obtained “information suggesting that fraud and other related program violations” have occurred at Texas Planned Parenthood clinics, state health officials announced plans to end all contracts for Planned Parenthood to provide preventative care — such as birth control, cancer screenings and HIV tests — to thousands of Texans through Medicaid. (Then, three days later, investigators armed with subpoenas descended on Planned Parenthood clinics across the state looking for evidence to justify that decision.)
The video released Tuesday reportedly shows undercover anti-abortion activists approaching Amna Dermish, a doctor at Planned Parenthood's Austin abortion clinic, and another staffer with Whole Woman's Health at a national conference for abortion providers last October. After the undercover activists ask a litany of questions about fetal tissue donation, the Whole Woman's Health staffer, who hasn't yet been identified, explains why the practice isn't done in Texas.
“We've never done it in Texas because, well, it's Texas,” she says. “In Texas we never — we just don't know what that process is, because we are always under unwanted attention.” The video appears to have been shot right around the time the courts ruled that Texas could implement 2013's House Bill 2, an omnibus anti-abortion law that threatens to shutter all but eight abortion clinics in the state (the U.S. Supreme Court, which has kept Texas from enacting the full provisions of the law so far, has yet to decide whether to take up the case or let the law stand). One of the undercover activists even laments “all of the oppression...all of the stigma” abortion providers face in Texas.
The undercover activist tells the clinic workers that another major supplier of fetal tissue reimburses clinics $50 “per specimen.” “We could do $60,” he chuckles. That one-sided exchange was enough for the Center for Medical Progress to proclaim this in a press release: “Dermish also affirms a fetal body part price of $50 or $60 per specimen. The sale or purchase of human fetal tissue is a federal felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.”
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Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas didn't return calls for comment Tuesday, but spokeswoman Sarah Wheat told the Houston Chronicle that "false claims are being made about our services based on a manipulated conversation with one of our physicians when she answered questions about her medical approach to services while at a medical conference."
Anti-abortion activists will likely point to a couple of exchanges from the 12-minute video as evidence of, as the Center for Medical Progress puts it, “Planned Parenthood's atrocities against humanity.” At one point, the undercover activist tells the clinic workers that researchers want fetuses at a later gestation — “that just happens to be, like, the sweet spot,” he explains, saying researchers “don't want to be playing 'find the liver! Oh, it's in eight pieces.'” At another point, the guy brings up researchers' requests for intact fetal brains, to which Dermish says, “I haven't been able to do that yet.” “Maybe next time!” he responds, laughing, to which Dermish says, “Well, this will give me something to strive for.”
Oddly enough, the video actually points to one of the more serious concerns abortion providers have with HB2 and its impact on women seeking abortions in the state. Just earlier this month, researchers warned that the law, if fully implemented, could endanger more women who do manage to obtain an abortion because of a spike in wait times at clinics that are still open — wait times that could lead to what researchers call a dramatic increase in second-trimester abortions, which carry a higher risk of complications than when the procedure is done early.
When the undercover activist asks how many second-trimester abortions Dermish's Planned Parenthood clinic performs, her response: “Our second trimester volume has been slowly increasing...It's just taking them longer to get to us.”