Politics Blog

Whatcom lawmakers want investigation of Planned Parenthood

Last week, two state legislators who represent Whatcom County asked state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to investigate Planned Parenthood following allegations it is illegally making money off donated fetal tissue from abortions.

Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, and Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, joined 32 other Republican legislators in signing a letter to Ferguson, asking him to look into the alleged sale of organs from aborted fetuses and investigate whether or not doctors had performed “partial-birth abortions” to ensure donated tissues would remain intact.

The allegations mentioned in the letter stem from a series of videos released over the last two weeks by the Center for Medical Progress, which describes itself as a nonprofit group of “citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.”

The undercover videos show interviews with Planned Parenthood doctors, including Mary Gatter, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Medical Directors’ Council, and Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, both of whom thought they were meeting with representatives from a “fetal tissue procurement company” (they were actors).

During each interview, which Planned Parenthood says were “heavily edited,” Gatter and Nucatola discuss the costs to get donated fetal tissue.

The Center for Medical Progress describes the video with Nucatola as “Planned Parenthood’s top doctor, praised by CEO, uses partial-birth abortions to sell baby parts.”

Nucatola and Gatter throw out numbers from $30 to $100, or $75 per specimen, clarifying that the cost varies based on the location of a clinic and procedure.

Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero issued a statement after the first video was released: “At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does -- with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.”

In some cases, the actual costs of transporting the tissue to research centers is reimbursed, as is standard in the medical profession, Ferrero continued.

Ferrero also described the Center for Medical Progress as “A well funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services.”

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also issued a video statement: “I want to be really clear. The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

Richards apologized for the tone Nucatola takes in the video, and said it was unacceptable.

In the letter to Ferguson, which his office says it received on Friday, July 24, Van Werven, Buys and the other legislators state, in part:

“If these practices are occurring in Washington it would be a violation of both state and federal law - and completely unacceptable.

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Therefore, on behalf of our constituents and the people of our state, we are formally asking you to investigate all Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates operating in Washington State for violations of all applicable state and federal laws pertaining to the trafficking of human organs and body parts, and to take the necessary injunctive action to end said practices.

Investigations have been initiated in multiple states to ensure their Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates are in compliance with the law. We further ask your office to coordinate with both Gov. Jay Inslee and his Secretary of Health, Dr. John Wiesman, to do the same in Washington.

Finally, regardless of personal views of legalized abortion, a civilized society cannot tolerate unethical medical practices such as the harvesting of human organs for monetary gain. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.”

Ferguson had not responded to the letter as of Wednesday afternoon, July 29.

In an email Wednesday, Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the letter was still under review and there would be no further comment until the review was complete. There was no estimate for how long that could take.

Both the state Democrats and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee responded to the letter on Wednesday.

“Planned Parenthood provides millions of women across the country access to a full range of affordable health care and family planning services. National extremist organizations are engaged in a concerted effort to discredit, and ultimately eliminate, an organization that so many women rely on,” Inslee said in a statement.

“Here in Washington state, where we have long fought to protect women’s access to family planning services, Planned Parenthood is on the front lines of women’s health care. I stand with them in their efforts to ensure every woman needing access to safe and legal reproductive health care can get it.”

The state Democratic Party said it stands with Planned Parenthood “against the coordinated political attacks by anti-women legislators seeking to defund Planned Parenthood and engage in political witch-hunts against the most-trusted women’s health care provider in the country.”

In a July 14 newsletter describing some of the “good” and “bad” of the state’s two-year operating budget, Van Werven listed continued funding for Planned Parenthood as the first bullet point of “The bad.”

“It is important to point out that total abortion expenditures in Planned Parenthood are decreasing,” Van Werven states in the newsletter. “I do not support funding for this organization but until we have Republican majorities in both Houses and a Republican governor, we will not be able to defund this organization completely.”

Abortions make up a small portion of Planned Parenthood’s services - 3 percent in 2012, according to the organization.

The majority of services Planned Parenthood offers include women’s health exams, cancer screening, contraception, family planning, sex education, men’s health services, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and other services.

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