On September 30th, The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-185 to defund Planned Parenthood in response to allegations that the women’s health care provider was selling fetal tissue. The allegations rose due to secretly recorded footage showing a meeting between Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research Deborah Nucatola and two representatives of The Center For Medical Progress, an anti-abortion organization, posing as employees of a company seeking to obtain fetal tissue for research purposes.
However, the unedited video that The Center For Medical Progress cites as evidence shows a Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly saying its clinics solely wanted to cover its cost rather than make a profit when donating fetal tissue for scientific research. Nucatola stated that, “Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this. They’re looking to serve their patients and just make it not impact their bottom line,” which is completely legal. In 1993, a law pertaining to federally funded NIH research was enacted that allows donation of fetal tissue from induced abortions under the highest ethical and legal standards with full consent from the patients.
In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field. It is a common practice for hospitals to provide tissue blocks from surgical procedures for research, and have their costs recovered at $100-$500 per block. Human tissue is used for a wide variety of bizarre products, such as penile implants and cosmetic merchandise that plump lips or reduce wrinkles, along with other medical research.
Which begs the question, if Planned Parenthood is under fire for donating human tissue, then why aren’t other hospitals having their federal funding threatened, too? Well, it’s because this fight isn’t really about the legality of fetal tissue donation. This whole budget reconciliation bill is a guise for the Republican Party’s general bigotry and disregard for reproductive rights. Because America technically has separation of church and state, religious groups like The Center For Medical Progress have to get crafty to disguise their personal beliefs as legal concern.
Since this is really a religion vs. reality debate, let’s talk about how the importance of fetal tissue research outweighs personal religious concerns. The use of fetal tissue has allowed for vital scientific discoveries. Fetal cells were instrumental in developing vaccines for diseases such as polio, measles, rubella, and shingles. Researchers today still study fetal tissue in hopes of developing vaccines for Ebola, degenerative diseases such as alzheimer’s, diabetes, and many more life-threatening illnesses. Regardless of whether or not you have moral qualms with fetal tissue research, you can’t deny that it has saved millions of lives.
Plus, Planned Parenthood isn’t just an abortion provider. With pricing based on income, according to their website, Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 Pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year, which are crucial in detecting cancer. The nonprofit organization also provides nearly 4.5 million affordable tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. Planned Parenthood provides educational programs to 1.5 million people per year. Only three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services. Without federal funding, these services will be unaffordable for millions of working class Americans.
Ultimately, the House vote wasn’t about whether or not Planned Parenthood’s practices are legal. As I stated, they were operating well within their legal parameters. The Religious Right and a handful of wayward Democrats were looking for any reason to chip away at women’s reproductive rights, and so the Center For Medical Progress stirred up these false allegations, altered a recording, and made some noise. The House was simply asked to decide which was more important: health and the advancement of scientific research, or their supposed moral righteousness. The majority of representatives revealed that they hold their politically motivated piousness in higher regard than actual human lives.
This attempt to defund Planned Parenthood is a bigotry-fueled attack on reproductive rights with innumerable consequences. Someone else’s personal beliefs should not hinder another’s right to choose. No one should have to die because they can’t afford a pap smear.