By Bobby Thomas

Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), or Planned Parenthood for brevity, is a nonprofit organization founded by Margaret Sanger that provides multiple health services, reproductive health care, and health education. Additionally, the organization advocates for affordable health care and lobbies for pro-choice legislation. Recently, new incriminating video footage brought forward by The Center for Medical Progress brings forth damaging evidence of high executives and doctors of the organization subtly and in other cases overtly supporting the sale of fetal organ tissues. Planned Parenthood denies such allegations. Nevertheless, the investigative journalism probing has placed Planned Parenthood under the ire of politicians, citizens, and the media outlet.

In the midst of all the chaos, separating fact from fiction is challenging. The “Tampa Bay Times” mentions some things to get straight in the midst of the controversy.

Primarily, selling fetal tissue is illegal, but donations of it are not. According to the law, “Buying or selling human body parts is a federal felony” (42 U.S. Code 274) and “the commercial traffick of body parts from an aborted baby is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $500,000” (42 U.S. Code 289g-2). However, the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 permits a woman to donate fetal tissue after abortion, although she is not allowed to dictate how the tissue is used or profit from it.

Part of the video footage shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola speaking of fees to be obtained in the transaction of acquiring fetal tissue, suggesting $30 to $100 per specimen. The Center for Medical Progress presents this as evidence of doctors negotiating prices for the sale of fetal organ tissue. Interestingly, according to the law, fees to cover the an organization’s cost of donating fetal tissue are permissible. Consequently, the price range may be for regulatory costs rather than any covert illegal activity. The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 states that, “reasonable payments associated with transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue” is allowable.

Since what constitutes, as “reasonable payment” is not explicitly stated anywhere it is hard to determine if there is any profiteering happening at all. If indeed there is any profiteering occurring it is plausibly occurring at the level of the tissue brokers who sell the specimens to researchers: since there is no regulation on fees, brokers charge by the prices set by the market.

Needless to say, even given these uncertainties, the evidence is compelling enough for many. And given the promise of more video releases by The Center for Medical Progress the situation is starting to look grim. Already, about 12 states have called for investigations into the organization’s tissue program and political pressure is driving the issue. Interestingly, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards mentioned that tissue donations occur in in “less than five” states but the general public is not privy to know which ones. Furthermore, federal law does not require the organization to disclose the information on their tax forms. In any case, it is important to keep the facts straight as the issue unravels over the next few months.