The XX Factor

New Undercover Video Claims to Expose More Planned Parenthood Wrongdoing

A September protest against Planned Parenthood in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

A new undercover video from the Center for Medical Progress claims to provide more evidence that Planned Parenthood performs illegal “partial birth” abortions and takes illegal payments for fetal tissue donation. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

Filmed on Oct. 12, 2014 at what appears to be a conference of reproductive health practitioners, the video shows Dr. Amna Dermish, a Planned Parenthood abortion provider from Austin, describing the process of a second-trimester abortion to a man posing as a procurer of fetal tissue specimens for stem cell research. He tries to bait her with talk of fetal tissue reimbursement fees and his desire for specific fetal organs, in which she shows no interest—her clinic, like more than 99 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities, doesn’t donate fetal tissue.

CMP wants this video to ride the wave of outrage sparked by the tapes it released this summer, which have led to a Congressional hearing, raids on clinics in Texas, and a new policy from Planned Parenthood to refuse reimbursement for all fetal tissue donation, even though the practice is perfectly legal. The tape of Dermish at the conference is intercut with familiar sting footage of Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, whose comments on videos released this summer were said by CMP to reveal illegal fetal-tissue sale and violations of the “partial birth” abortion ban. As has been exhaustively proven, Nucatola’s statements were perfectly in line with legal abortion practices. To most laypeople—and certainly, to most pro-lifers—her casual manner seems inappropriate for a dialogue about fetal body parts, but for medical professionals accustomed to discussing clinical procedures with clinical language, it’s not suspect at all. And CMP’s claim that Nucatola admits to performing “partial birth” abortions is patently false: The fetuses she’s talking about haven’t reached viability, so they’re not being “birthed” at all.

Much of the tape’s conversation just sounds like a bunch of medical practitioners talking shop. The matter-of-fact narration of how a doctor extracts a fetus’s lower extremities, calvarium (developing skull), and spine is gory. Dermish tells a story about a colleague who is nerdily fascinated with human gestation; Andrea Ferrigno of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs seven reproductive-health facilities across the country, calls a fetal heart “cute.” It’s strange and uncomfortable. But this is the business of second-trimester abortion. It’s legal, it’s the only choice for many women, and it often involves recognizable body parts. A fetus is a developing human being, which makes the fundamentals of later abortions more jarring than most other medical procedures. 

One of the more interesting segments of today’s CMP video shows Ferrigno discussing the volume of Whole Woman’s Health’s Texas clinics. A week before CMP filmed the video, a federal court affirmed a Texas law that shut down any abortion provider whose facilities didn’t meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, leaving only eight clinics in the state. In the video, the Whole Woman’s Health rep describes heightened demand on the remaining Texas clinics, which recent studies have linked to rising wait times and a potential spike in second-trimester abortion. The Center for Medical Progress may find second-trimester abortions abhorrent, but—thanks to the successful efforts of their comrades in the anti-choice movement—they can likely look forward to more of them in Texas.

Correction, Oct. 27, 2015: This article originally misattributed the description of a fetal heart as “cute” to Dermish. In fact, Ferrigno said “cute.”