Planned Parenthood and Fetal Tissue Procurement

Unless you have been without any internet access for the past month or so, you have probably heard about the undercover videos made by David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress that feature the chief medical director of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Deborah Nucatola,  discussing the sale of fetal tissue that results from an abortion, and Dr. Mary Gatter, the Medical Directors’ Council President for Planted Parenthood doing essentially the same thing.

The emotional impact of these videos are immense, but I would like to try to step back from that and discuss the legal side of these videos.  Fetal tissue procurement is heavily regulated by the Federal government.  The specific laws that regulate human fetal tissue procurement are shown below:

42 U.S. Code § 289g–2 – Prohibitions regarding human fetal tissue
a) Purchase of tissue
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.
(b) Solicitation or acceptance of tissue as directed donation for use in transplantation
It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit or knowingly acquire, receive, or accept a donation of human fetal tissue for the purpose of transplantation of such tissue into another person if the donation affects interstate commerce, the tissue will be or is obtained pursuant to an induced abortion, and—
(1) the donation will be or is made pursuant to a promise to the donating individual that the donated tissue will be transplanted into a recipient specified by such individual;
(2) the donated tissue will be transplanted into a relative of the donating individual; or
(3) the person who solicits or knowingly acquires, receives, or accepts the donation has provided valuable consideration for the costs associated with such abortion.
(c) Solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes
It shall be unlawful for any person or entity involved or engaged in interstate commerce to—
(1) solicit or knowingly acquire, receive, or accept a donation of human fetal tissue knowing that a human pregnancy was deliberately initiated to provide such tissue; or
(2) knowingly acquire, receive, or accept tissue or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus that was gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman animal.
(d) Criminal penalties for violations
(1) In general
Any person who violates subsection (a), (b), or (c) shall be fined in accordance with title 18, subject to paragraph (2), or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.
(2) Penalties applicable to persons receiving consideration
With respect to the imposition of a fine under paragraph (1), if the person involved violates subsection (a) or (b)(3), a fine shall be imposed in an amount not less than twice the amount of the valuable consideration received.
(e) Definitions
For purposes of this section:
(1) The term “human fetal tissue” has the meaning given such term in section 289g–1 (g) of this title.
(2) The term “interstate commerce” has the meaning given such term in section 321 (b) of title 21.
(3) The term “valuable consideration” does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.

If we wade through the legalese, we can see that you cannot sell fetal tissue.  It has to be donated and it cannot come from a pregnancy whose sole purpose was to provide a source of fetal tissue.  You may not sell it for a profit.  You may also not transplant it.  All of this is meant to prevent women from having babies so they can sell their parts for money.  For this reason, abortion clinics may not use the possibility of fetal tissue donation as an inducement to persuade women to have an abortion.

In both of these videos, Planned Parenthood executives, not people who run individual centers, medical directors, which makes this official Planned Parenthood policy, actively discuss the prices of fetal organs.  That reflects an intent to sell fetal organs and that means that these videos reflect an intent to break a Federal law.  If this reflects routine Planned Parenthood policy and/or practice, then they are routinely breaking the law.

As you can see, at the very least, this deserves an investigation.  If Planned Parenthood clinics routinely charge biotechnology companies beyond their normal administrative and medical costs for fetal tissue, then they are breaking the law.  Maybe that is not the case (I highly doubt it frankly, but that’s my take), but we do not know without an investigation.  The Justice Department should become involved quickly and all federal funding of Planned Parenthood should be suspended pending full cooperation with a Federal investigation.  This should be the minimal results of these troubling videos.


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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).