Officials at Planned Parenthood mounted an aggressive defense in a letter to Congress on Thursday, offering evidence from an outside investigator that undercover videos targeting the women’s health organization were heavily edited and should be considered unreliable.
The letter, written by the organization’s president, Cecile Richards, comes as four congressional committees are pursuing investigations into allegations that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, which is prohibited by law, and that it has changed its abortion procedures to extract better specimens. The accusations stem from an elaborate undercover investigation by antiabortion activists, who recorded Planned Parenthood employees while posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company.
Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied the allegations. On Thursday, the group attempted to go on the offense, with Richards accusing the activists from the Center for Medical Progress of acting “fraudulently and unethically — and perhaps illegally.”
Her letter was accompanied by a 10-page report commissioned by Planned Parenthood and penned by an independent investigator, former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson. Through his firm Fusion GPS, Simpson enlisted experts who analyzed both the short, highly produced videos publicized by the antiabortion group, as well as hours of “full” footage the group posted on YouTube.
The implication is that the longer footage was unedited. But Simpson said he found significant gaps.
“Anytime someone removes a piece of audio or video tape . . . that renders the file unreliable,” Simpson said during a teleconference for reporters.
Simpson said he also discovered discrepancies between transcripts posted by the antiabortion group and dialogue in the video. And he said he found instances in which the undercover actors goaded Planned Parenthood officials into making flippant remarks, and where inaudible dialogue was transcribed in a way that represented “wishful thinking” — for example, when a lab technician is said to have looked at a fetus and said, “It’s a baby.”
David Daleiden, project leader at the Center for Medical Progress, said the gaps in the longer video were bathroom breaks taken by the actors wearing hidden cameras, or long periods during which an actor sat silently in a waiting room.
He said the group has made that fuller raw footage available to law enforcement authorities as well as congressional investigators. A judge’s order in California, however, has restricted the release of some footage, he said.
Daleiden accused Planned Parenthood of skirting the heart of the issue: whether it is selling fetal tissue or participating in other illegal activities, such as employing an abortion procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion, which is outlawed in most circumstances.
“We’re now seven weeks into this news story. They spent 11 pages now talking about camera Number One or camera Number Two, ” Daleiden said. “What they still haven’t spent any time addressing is the questions over their use of partial-birth abortion or giving any type of detailed accounting of the costs and how much they’re actually getting paid.”
In the letter, Planned Parenthood officials write that only two affiliates still participate in tissue donation, a service provided to women who decide to donate fetal material for medical research. Before the video sting, four other affiliates — all in California — participated in tissue donation but stopped because of threats or other issues.
The letter says the lone California affiliate that still donates tissue receives $60 per specimen, a “modest reimbursement” to recover costs. Such a charge is permitted under state and federal law.
Planned Parenthood officials acknowledge that doctors sometimes make minor adjustments to abortion procedures to extract specimens. However, Richards contends in the letter that the adjustments do not make the procedure more risky. Moreover, she said, there is no federal prohibition against making these adjustments as long as the research is not federally funded.
Still, she wrote, Planned Parenthood has adopted voluntary guidelines against any “substantive alteration in the timing of terminating the pregnancy or of the method used . . . for the purpose of obtaining the blood
“Mr. Daleiden and his associates have sought to infiltrate Planned Parenthood affiliates and unsuccessfully to entrap Planned Parenthood physicians and staff for nearly three years,” Richards wrote. “Yet it is Planned Parenthood, not Mr. Daleiden, that is currently subject to four separate congressional investigations.”