In case you’ve missed it, a video released Tuesday shows a top Planned Parenthood official Dr. Deborah Nucatola discussing the trade of human organs from aborted babies. Go ahead: read and watch, we’ll still be here.

Back? Ok, good.

Unfortunately, with a 24-hour news cycle, spin doctors, and several responses from Planned Parenthood themselves, and a slew of commentators taking those statements at face value, what’s important – and what’s true- in the story here can get lost.


We at CNA have been pouring over this story for two days, and are going to clear up a few of the facts we’ve noticed getting jumbled in the discussion:


Credit: Steve Rhoades via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Misconception 1: Planned Parenthood national offices are in the middle of all of this- officially

According to Nucatola, PPFA would love to be the official middle-man between abortion clinics and research labs all across the country in trade of these organs and tissues. However, “ it’s just too touchy and issue for us to be an official middleman,” she admitted in the video.

The reason PPFA is shying away from playing an active role? They don’t want to invite a lawsuit. “If you talk to my litigation and law folks they will tell you that anything that goes to the Supreme Court right now, we all lose,” Nucatola explained. “Unless the composition of the Supreme Court changes anytime soon, we don’t want to be raising eyebrows.”

There is another story beneath the surface, though. “[B]ehind closed doors, these conversations are happening with affiliates,” Nucatola admitted. There’s also a yearly “cycle,” she added, that makes it “ok to talk” without fear of creating a case that will reach the Supreme Court.

So instead of acting explicitly as an intermediary, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is positioning themselves as a player to “keep access available” for other abortion clinics to trade in body parts and tissues from aborted babies. Thus, they don’t seek high prices because it makes them a target. Rather, they make a small profit and keep options open for other clinics while doing so.

They also cast this gruesome process as an act of goodwill rather than a sale — donating body parts to research can look much better than selling them to harvesting companies. “Right now, we’re in a position where yes, our patients ask about this, and they feel that this is important, and they feel that they’re doing a good thing,” Nucolata said.


“You know, is there a way to continue to frame this, are there things that we can spotlight, benefits,” she asked. “Because if we can reframe the conversation, it’s just a win-win for everybody.”

“This is all anything you can do to help explain, who’s benefitting, the benevolence of what they’re doing. I think that holds as much value as any cash prize,” she continued.

That value, in Planned Parenthood’s mind, is important in winning public opinion in favor of the abortion giant and their use of fetal organs.

Misconception 2: The only real beneficiary of the described organ here is science

The way that Planned Parenthood has decided to frame the conversation about the video is that  the procedures discussed in the film are the abortion giant’s way of helping clients “who want to donate tissue for scientific research.”

“[W]e do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does,” Nucatola said, but that doesn’t mean that other parties don’t benefit from the trade of organs.

Planned Parenthood affiliates, Nucolata said “want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that. Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is a just pennies they give to another patient.”

In other words, the trade of organs from aborted babies for compensation, even “in-kind” compensation like the removal of medical waste like bodily fluids and body parts, helps Planned Parenthood save costs and increase profitability in other areas. The money is fungible.

Those funds also add up:

If, for example Planned Parenthood only traded one organ from only 5% of the abortions they do a year- over 300,000– and capped payments at $30, Planned Parenthood would still make nearly half a million dollars a year from the “donation” of fetal organs.

If donations average a little more — $60 or $75 an organ — and abortion providers harvest more than one organ from a child, and more than 5% of abortions receive compensation for the “donated” organs- these numbers could easily top more than $1 million in “compensation”  per year for the abortion giant.

Misconception 3: The video definitely shows the illegal sale of body parts- or it definitely does not

While the video is definitely morally disturbing and gut-wrenching to listen to, it’s unclear if the Planned Parenthood Federation of America themselves will be found to be in violation of laws against the sale of organs and other body parts.

While the sale of human body parts is illegal, federal law allows donors to receive “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

Planned Parenthood’s response to the video is that they have only been receiving these kinds of contributions to offset harvesting costs. In the video Nucatola repeatedly shows caution in discussing payment with a potential buyer, saying the organ trade “is not something you should be making an exorbitant amount of money on.”

While the abortion director is on record in the video discussing payments of $30 to $100 per organ, she notes  that Planned Parenthood is “very, very sensitive” to seeming like they’re making money off of providing organs from aborted children to research companies.

However, as mentioned above, these charges add up even in the most conservative estimates – and could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars of income for Planned Parenthood.

Advertisements given to Planned Parenthood and statements from Nucatola also hint that the company sees the trade of these organs as an opportunity for profit- however discreet.

A flyer from StemExpress, a California medical research company referenced in the video, to abortion clinics frames the provision of bodily fluids, organs and tissues from abortions to their lab as “a financial benefit to your clinic” and an opportunity to contribute “to the fiscal growth of your clinic.” (This trade looks cozy for the research company as well. According to their website, processed fetal cell lines and tissues can be purchased for a minimum of $488- and as much as $24,250.)

Furthermore, in the video, Nucatola noted that abortion clinics can provide organs from aborted infants in order to “do a little better than break even”- to make a small profit from the trade.

In addition, Planned Parenthood may be running afoul of state laws regarding organ sale: various states do not allow compensation for any party involved in an organ donation.

As Casey Mattox, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom told the National Catholic Register, “Planned Parenthood is carefully skirting this law, if not violating it.”

Misconception 4: If Planned Parenthood isn’t breaking any laws by taking payments for donations, there’s no legal problem here

While Planned Parenthood’s claims that its policy of only accepting small payments as compensation for donation will need to be determined by investigations that have been announced, there are other legal questions that surface from the video.

Nucatola talks on camera about how some clinics try to avoid violating the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban- and how some get around it. The “Federal Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation,” she says.

The Planned Parenthood executive also describes harvesting procedures that resemble a partial-birth abortion, which is typically conducted by partially delivering a baby feet-first before killing it and removing the body from the uterus.

There are also laws, like the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which prohibit an abortion provider from alerting “the timing, method or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy was made solely for the purposes of obtaining the tissue.”  In the video, Nucolata describes how a clinic’s organ requests can change an abortion procedure.  “[I]n the back of your mind you’ve got X, Y, and Z organs that need to be procured and we want them to be reasonably intact, and you convert to breech,” or a feet-first delivery, she described.

This concern surrounding a change in procedures has been raised outside of pro-life and legal circles as well. In a reflection for Texas Monthly, Erica Grieder says the video troubling even if the donation procedures themselves are legal.  She writes that “ a physician providing an abortion should be focused on the care that they are providing to the actual patient in the room, not managing the surgical procedure with a view to minimizing “crushing” that might inconvenience a researcher at some future date”

That said- we don’t know exactly what is happening on a daily basis – and if and how exactly any laws are being violated. We won’t know for sure until more intensive investigations are conducted.


Credit: Marcelo Cantarela Junior via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Misconception 5: If none of these legal investigations find any charges, everything shown in the video is fine

Regardless of the legality, treating the organs of aborted babies this way isn’t the worst part- aborting them in the first place is.

The killing of millions and millions of unborn persons has been legal in the United States since 1973. This legal protection of the destruction of the innocent is wrong.

In a sense, the legality of the procedures Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics take to dispose of the aftermath of abortion is beside the point- the abortion itself is immoral and in and of itself a grave affront to human dignity.

As St. Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae,

“To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”  (20.)

Is it really a surprise then that a society that permits people to have that kind of power over the weak and vulnerable uses it to exploit their bodies even after they killed? Not really. And, like Jenny talks about in her blog post here, in a sense we have become used to the creeping normalcy of the horrors of our day.

But maybe, just maybe, the shock of the casual talk of the harvesting of organs from the unborn will be cause for change: a change if they are found guilty of wrongdoing under the law. Or a change if they’re not- a chance to ask ourselves: are we the kind of people who can find “a use for the organs of aborted human beings, but not for the human beings that provided them,” or will we use the law to protect those who have no one to protect them, to protect the dignity of every human life?