By Agata Ferretti
This week, Planned Parenthood shot into the spotlight to become one of the most scrutinized groups in America. On July 14th 2015, the anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress posted a long version of a conversation between a Planned Parenthood executive and undercover actors on YouTube about the “special methods” used by the Planned Parenthood Company to abort babies without “crushing” them, in order for their organs and limbs to be harvested for research.
This video led to a huge debate in the media, with liberal journalists trying to downplay the story and defend Planned Parenthood, while conservatives spoke out about it being a “disgusting” and “grotesque” action.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a non-profit organization providing reproductive, maternal and child health services that include: contraceptives (birth control), emergency contraception, screening for breast, cervical and testicular cancers, pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, comprehensive sexuality education, menopause treatments, vasectomies, tubal ligations, and abortion.
The use of fetal tissue is not new in medicine; recent scientific advances were made possible by using tissue from aborted fetuses. However, the conservative response has been harsh, illustrated by this quote from Alabama Media Group columnist Cameron Smith: “We’re still left with a completely legal human chop shop for research purposes. Are we OK with that as a society? If we’re not willing to protect life at those early stages, why does it still shock us to think of a fetus being dismembered and sent to labs around the country?”
The central issue here is that people differ in their opinion of when life begins– whether it’s conception, birth, or somewhere in between. Or, is life defined as quality and awareness, viability and sentience? About this, journalist Morgan Rice says:
“I understand that the justification of aborted fetus utilization is a little more complicated than putting a recycling can in your kitchen. Regardless of this topic’s difficulties, it is absolutely something we need to discuss. If abortion is about choice, why does a fetal chop shop bother us? […] These pregnancies were going to be ended regardless of what happened to the tissue”.
However, the practice has been distinguished as two separate crimes by the political right: human organ trafficking and partial-birth abortions. In the conservative opinion, using fetal tissue means the brutal dismemberment of millions of fetuses in order to obtain tiny hearts, lungs and livers to send all across the country for research.
The technique described by the Planned Parenthood official doesn’t fall under the definition of a partial-birth abortion, which is a federal felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000 (18 U.S. Code 1531). Since the tissues are only formed during the third month, no fetus could survive outside the womb if born earlier than 12 weeks, and therefore we cannot say that these procedures fall under the category of “partial-birth abortion”.
The most controversial aspect of the entire situation is expressed in the reimbursement for fetal tissues; it opens a series of ethical dilemmas. However, why should we be surprised if a medical facility charges $30 for preserving tissue that they otherwise wouldn’t bother with, when the American system of medical care is a business? Since people deem it acceptable for hospitals to operate as capitalist mongers rather than havens for the sick regardless of income, how do they explain this hypocrisy of demonizing the use of aborted fetal tissue for medical purposes and research?