Planned Parenthood Can’t Seem to Get Its Story Straight on Fetal Tissue ‘Donation’ Programs

Recently unsealed sworn testimony by Planned Parenthood officials contradicts earlier disavowals of involvement in such programs.

(photo: The Center for Medical Progress)

Planned Parenthood employees appeared to contradict the claim of one of their affiliates when they told Congress that it did not “even have” a fetal tissue donation program, according to unsealed sworn testimony from federal court proceedings against pro-life activist David Daleiden. 

The recent video from Daleiden’s organization, The Center for Medical Progress, also highlighted how Planned Parenthood’s affiliates seemed to avoid scrutiny by classifying the provision of fetal tissue for research under the category of “research project” if there was one specific project, rather than “tissue donation” if the fetal tissue was used in more than one project. Planned Parenthood requested last Wednesday that these testimonies from their employees be sealed.

Daleiden has faced civil and criminal proceedings from Planned Parenthood, over his undercover videos, initially released in 2015, which allegedly show the abortion organization’s illegal trafficking in unborn baby body parts. The videos led to an investigation from Congress during which Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) in Texas told Congress in 2015 that “Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast does not even have a fetal tissue donation program” and that “although the CMP video does not make this clear, the Gulf Coast affiliate had only a placental and decidua donation program in place” with researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).

However, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s vice president for research, Melissa Farrell, testified under oath in March of 2019 when asked, “what specimens are then conveyed to UTMB under the contract?” that it was the “products of conception.” She was then asked, “Was it the entire products of conception from the abortion procedure?” and Farrell answered, “That is my understanding, yes.” The term “products of conception” is a term that includes “not only the fetus but also the placenta and any other tissues that may result from a fertilized egg.” The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives determined in 2016 that PPGC “charged UTMB $150 per executed consent, $50 if the UTMB technician did not transport the tissue.” 

Additionally, the video features testimony from Dr. Mary Gatter, who was the medical director of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and was in charge of the fetal tissue program with the wholesaler business Novogenix Laboratories. When asked “did any other researchers go to PPLA to collect [fetal] specimens?,” Dr. Gatter initially replied, “Not as far I am aware.” She then added, “Can I just — let me, I’d like to amend that, to say, there is a difference between tissue collection for a big organization, that they collect the tissue — a tissue procurement organization — and a specific research project. Now, we may in fact have been involved in specific research projects, but that’s a whole different category from fetal tissue donation.”

Dr. Gatter testified that she was responsible for “research projects” at her branch and for securing approval from the national PPFA Research Department. When Gatter was asked to clarify if “those research projects may have included projects that involved fetal tissue,” she replied, “I cannot remember.”

Dr. Katharine Sheehan, the longtime medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW,) also testified in May of 2019 that in addition to an ongoing relationship that her affiliate has providing fetal organs and tissues to middleman wholesaler Advanced Bioscience Resources, it also has relationships with researchers and research institutions to “procure fetal tissue.” One UC San Diego experimental study included a thank you to PPPSW for “fetal pancreas samples.”

Daleiden commented of the footage that “when the undercover videos were first released, Planned Parenthood delivered a carefully-constructed script to the public and to the press minimizing their involvement in fetal experimentation — but under oath, their story changes.” 

“Now we know that Planned Parenthood flagrantly lied to the United States Congress about the extent of its abortion clinics’ criminal trafficking in fetal body parts for experimentation,” he said. “How long will public officials continue to allow them to get away with it?”

In December 2017, the Department of Justice requested that the Senate Judiciary Committee share access to documents from their December 2016 report, in which then-committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked the agency to investigate several Planned Parenthood affiliates. The Department of Justice did not return the Register’s query regarding the status of that investigation.

In August, 28 U.S. senators wrote the DOJ asking that they expand the scope of their investigation into Planned Parenthood in light of some of the 2019 testimonies in Daleiden’s case from “biomedical company officials admitting to the trafficking and sale of fetal tissue and describing infants born alive and left to die or killed through organ harvesting.” 

“We urge you to investigate not only the extent to which Planned Parenthood was involved in the sale of fetal tissue, but also the disturbing descriptions by Planned Parenthood workers of infants born alive who were left to die or killed through organ harvesting,” the senators wrote. They also asked for updates on their past criminal referrals of Planned Parenthood affiliates to the DOJ, asking that "if no action has been taken on these referrals, provide an explanation as to why."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., commented in August that “we have seen from invoices from certain Planned Parenthood affiliates, biomedical companies paid thousands of dollars in exchange for fetal organs from abortions. Planned Parenthood and any biomedical companies involved must be held accountable for their lucrative and illegal activities involving the trafficking and sale of fetal tissue.”