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Explainer: Why everyone is arguing about Planned Parenthood in America

And how a series of videos could end up shutting down the entire US government.

pp Source: The Center for Medical Progress

ABORTION HAS RETURNED to the top of the American political agenda recently, thanks to a series of controversial videos.

Three weeks ago, the pro-life Center for Medical Progress released a nine-minute video that showed senior figures from reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood discussing fees in return for tissue and body parts from aborted fetuses.

Followed up with further undercover recordings, the episode has sparked a fierce resumption of America’s abortion debate, which has ebbed and flowed since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, which legalised abortion nationally.

It has also provoked court battles, an effort to strip Planned Parenthood of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, and put the group centre stage at the start of the US Presidential election campaign.

But what do the videos actually show? Are Planned Parenthood breaking any laws? And where will this fight go next?

Here are the facts behind a firestorm taking hold in America.

Who’s who?

Abortion Source: Associated Press

Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organisation, started in New York almost a century ago, which has grown to become America’s largest reproductive and women’s health care provider.

It is also the country’s leading provider of abortions, performing 327,653 procedures from June 2013 to June 2014, in around 700 health centres throughout the US.

However, according to its own figures, that makes up just 3% of what Planned Parenthood does, with services relating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) comprising 42% and contraception 34%.

The group also has a political arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which conducts lobbying, campaigns on abortion and women’s health policy, and contributes millions of dollars to election campaigns, the vast majority of them Democratic.

CMPgoldfinal Source: Center for Medical Progress

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) is a California-based non-profit group, started in 2013, which calls itself:

A group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.

It is headed by 26-year-old anti-abortion activist David Daleiden who, around the same time he started CMP, founded BioMax Procurement Services, a registered company which describes itself as:

A biological specimen procurement organization headquartered in Norwalk, CA. BioMax provides tissue and specimen procurement for academic and private bioscience researchers.

It was under this guise that Daleiden and his colleagues posed in secretly recorded meetings with Planned Parenthood officials.

The videos

Warning: This video contains language that some people might find disturbing or offensive.

Source: The Center for Medical Progress/YouTube

The videos show several Planned Parenthood officials discussing fees in return for fetal tissue samples at meetings, and showing CMP’s fake “buyers” some samples in laboratories.

Some of the content is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers, but you can watch all the videos here.

In the first, Deborah Nucatola, a Medical Director at Planned Parenthood, discusses a fee of $30-100 per specimen, and how to extract certain organs intact:

…We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.

Another shows Planned Parenthood staff showing intact fetal organs to the fake buyers, and using a tone and language that some viewers found disturbing or dispassionate, including describing the integrity of a kidney as “five stars”, which was followed with laughter.

The backlash

DEM 2016 Clinton Source: Associated Press

Planned Parenthood has strongly hit back against the release of the videos.

They argue that the fetal tissue is voluntarily donated by women, it’s used for crucial medical research into conditions such as Alzheimer’s, and that any fees involved are only to cover the organisations costs, and not for profit.

It is legal to organise the donation of fetal tissue, but not to make a profit from it.

Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens also pointed out that the clips had been heavily edited:

The latest tape has at least 20 substantial and unexplained edits. Previous tapes released by this extremist group were heavily edited in order to distort what the people on the tapes actually said. These videos are intended to shock and deceive the public.

In response, CMP released purportedly full versions of some of the videos.

While defending their mission, and attacking CMP, Planned Parenthood’s President, Cecile Richards, did apologise for the tone of comments in the first video:

Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion.
This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.

Source: Planned Parenthood/YouTube

Conservative Republican politicians instantly seized on the videos, with all of the party’s 17 presidential candidates condemning them.

Even pro-choice politicians have registered their discomfort, with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton defending Planned Parenthood in general, but calling the footage “disturbing.”

Presidential candidate George Pataki, former New York Governor and the only pro-choice figure among would-be Republican nominees, said the videos showed a “horrific, hideous contempt for human life.”

The US House of Representatives has launched a congressional inquiry into the issue of fetal tissue donation, and several Republican Governors have started investigations in their own states.

All Republican presidential candidates want to defund Planned Parenthood, which has already become a hot-button issue in primary debates.

Last week, Democrats in the US Senate defeated a bill that would have removed federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and shifted the money to other health care providers.

The stakes are high for Planned Parenthood, which says that out of $1.3 billion in revenue last year, $528 million came from taxpayers.

However, defenders of Planned Parenthood say cutting federal aid wouldn’t affect the abortions it provides because by law, federal money cannot be used for abortions except for cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in peril.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood say squeezing money from the group would force them to prioritise its remaining funds on other services.

What happens next?

GOP 2016 Debate Defunding Planned Parenthood has become a popular talking point for Republican primary candidates. Source: Associated Press

CMP has even more videos, and this episode doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

However, last week, a judge in San Francisco issued a temporary order restraining them from releasing videos involving employees of StemExpress – a company that provides “tissue products, primary cells and other clinical specimens to biomedical researchers.”

The National Abortion Federation sued in federal court, alleging that CMP infiltrated its meetings and recorded its members.

Judge William Orrick said if the videos were published, the National Abortion Federation would suffer irreparable injury “in the form of harassment, intimidation, violence, invasion of privacy, and injury to reputation.”

David Daleiden, CMP’s leader, said in a statement that Planned Parenthood and its allies were trying to silence the group and suppress investigative journalism.

Both Republicans and Democrats will revisit the fight next month, when Congress returns from its summer break and dives into budget negotiations.

While some conservatives see that as an opportunity to keep Planned Parenthood money out of those bills, others are hoping to avoid a repeat of 2013′s disastrous debt ceiling negotiations.

But with politicians in both parties fighting for election, not least Republican Presidential primary contenders, it’s quite possible that deep divisions over Planned Parenthood could go so far as to shut down the entire American federal government.

Contains reporting by the Associated Press.

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Dan MacGuill

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