WASHINGTON — More than two years have passed since the release of explosive undercover videos alleging Planned Parenthood’s affiliates sought to profit illegally by procuring fetal tissue from aborted babies for scientific research.
No state investigation has yet turned up evidence of this kind of illegal activity, but the allegations will likely be put to the test now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation requested Nov. 13 the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hand over unredacted financial records contained in 30,000 documents from their own investigation of Planned Parenthood.
If the FBI chooses to pursue criminal charges, the fallout could be severe for Planned Parenthood, the largest single abortion provider in the U.S.
Both the Senate and House conducted investigations into wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and its partners in fetal-tissue procurement and made 13 criminal referrals. In remarks Nov. 14 to the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions commented, “Verifying the findings of Congress could provide a basis for charges.”
David Daleiden, one of the Center for Medical Progress’ videographers who went undercover with Planned Parenthood executives, told the Register that he believes the FBI’s investigation will confirm Planned Parenthood’s involvement in procuring fetal tissue was illegal.
“The reality is that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-funded crime syndicate,” he said.
So far, Planned Parenthood has yet to be charged with anything resulting from CMP’s investigations. Thirteen state investigations of Planned Parenthood have not resulted in charges related to the claims of profiteering from procuring fetal body parts. A grand-jury investigation actually produced charges against Daleiden and his co-investigator Sandra Merritt, but it later emerged that attorneys in the D.A.’s office had been working closely with Planned Parenthood’s legal representatives, and the grand jury never had an opportunity to examine the evidence against Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has decried the accusations of illegal profiteering from fetal-tissue procurement as “baseless” and aimed at ending abortion services at its centers.
“Planned Parenthood has never, and would never, profit while facilitating its patients’ choice to donate fetal tissue for use in important medical research,” Dana Singiser, vice president of government affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement provided to the Register.
“A number of congressional investigations were launched in the wake of the release by anti-abortion extremists of deceptively edited and widely discredited videos that were designed to create a misleading picture of Planned Parenthood's services,” she added. “Planned Parenthood fully and voluntarily cooperated with those investigations, providing nearly 30,000 pages of documents and nine interviews with Planned Parenthood staff from across the country.”
Both the Justice Department and the FBI stated that they will not comment on potential investigations.
Steven Aden, general counsel for Americans United for Life, told the Register that if the FBI pursues criminal charges, Planned Parenthood has hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding hanging in the balance.
According to federal law, individuals convicted of profiting from the procurement of organ tissue face a potential fine of $50,000 or up to five years in prison.
The next steps for the FBI, he said, would be to investigate, complete a dossier and, if charges were warranted, refer the case to the prosecuting U.S. attorney for the appropriate jurisdiction.
Aden added that, to his knowledge, no one has ever been convicted of trafficking in fetal body parts.
However, Aden said it was “unusual” for the FBI to go to a house of Congress in order to obtain original documentation for its own investigation.
“It sounds like the FBI is trying to cut to the quick,” he said, instead of dealing with potential delays by going back to the original sources, Planned Parenthood and its tissue-procurement partners.
By going to the original documents in the Senate’s hands, the FBI will determine whether it has the kind of legal case that pro-life investigators claimed, or whether Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue-procurement enterprise was in fact legal.
Aden added that the FBI would be looking for instances, such as bogus charges, where profiteering would be manifest. He said one example would be if Planned Parenthood billed for services that were actually carried out by the tissue procurer’s employees. They would also be looking for statements that indicate a profit motive in what otherwise would be a “cost-only transaction” designed to further scientific research.
Various Planned Parenthood facilities named in the document allege the costs associated with procurement far outweighed their reimbursements, which ranged in fiscal year 2015 between $1,300 and $19,000.
However, the FBI may also have other targets in mind: the tissue-procurement middlemen that obtained fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
In one case noted by the Senate report, Advanced Bioscience Resources had direct costs amounting to $300: $240 (or $60 per aborted child) went to a Planned Parenthood center and $60 to pay an employee for four hours of work. But the company could not account for why it ended up charging its clients $6,825.
A criminal conviction would jeopardize $553.7 million in public funding reported in Planned Parenthood’s 2015 report. But the massive fallout from the CMP videos has already emboldened state lawmakers to revoke funding from Planned Parenthood and direct it to health providers that do not provide abortion.
Approximately 15 states have sought to cut financial ties with Planned Parenthood. President Donald Trump also signed legislation this year permitting states to determine which organizations they will allocate their family-planning dollars.
Pro-life advocates are looking for legislation that would revoke their federal funding. The Susan B. Anthony List in a statement urged President Trump and Congress to follow through.
“We welcome the Justice Department’s investigation of Planned Parenthood,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Not content with their status as the nation’s largest abortion business, evidence shows Planned Parenthood sought to squeeze every last opportunity for cash from the sale of hearts, brains, lungs and livers of the unborn children whose lives they end.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.
This story was updated after it was posted.