Know Your Neighbors
My first husband died after we had been divorced for many years, and his involvement with our two children had been sporadic, at best. Yet they were there with him when, on a trip to Minnesota, he ended up in hospital after a heart attack.
After his death, they called and wondered what they should do with his body. One lived in Portland, Ore.; the other lived in Dallas. Their dad’s family was in Hemet—with no apparent interest in being involved.
“Tell the hospital you want to donate his body for anything that might contribute to research,” I suggested, “and go home. You’ve done all you can.”
They took my advice, and both remarked afterward that they felt good that perhaps his death served some greater purpose.
I thought about that when I started hearing the reports about Planned Parenthood “harvesting and selling” fetal tissue for research. The reports were the result of undercover videos, taken over an extended period of time, and obviously edited, by a group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress. The “center” started in 2013 and includes people claiming to be “citizen journalists” focusing on medical ethics and preservation of life. The center is linked to Operation Rescue, whose mission is “taking direct action to restore legal personhood to the pre-born and stop abortion in obedience to biblical mandates.”
Both organizations’ ultimate goal is to once again criminalize abortion, regardless of circumstances, and to overturn existing constitutional protections for women to make their own decisions about when and whether to continue a pregnancy.
With the media covering the videos, including characterizations of “illicit baby parts sales,” the calls to defund all federal support for Planned Parenthood’s numerous clinics throughout the country began anew. These clinics, two of which are located in the Coachella Valley, primarily provide women’s health services like pap smears, breast-cancer exams, contraception, testing for sexually transmitted illnesses, family-planning education and pre-natal care. In Riverside County, Planned Parenthood clinics provide health services to more than 40,000 patients—19,000 in our eastern portion of the county alone. Approximately 20 percent of all American women report that they have gone to Planned Parenthood at some time, and abortion accounts for only about 3 percent of all provided services—without any use of taxpayer funds for those procedures.
The aforementioned videos depict representatives of a fake biomedical research company wanting to obtain fetal tissue for research; Planned Parenthood is characterized as “price haggling over baby parts.” According to FactCheck.org, the unedited video shows that the Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly said its clinics wanted to cover “only the costs (and) not make money when donating fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research.” Of course, that part was omitted from the released videos.
The description of how abortions are done—and how specific fetal tissue is identified, segregated and preserved—sounds gruesome, even if you’re pro-choice. On the other hand, a detailed description of almost any medical procedure is also gruesome; we just don’t often talk about such things too graphically. For example, my daughter had a serious accident, with third-degree burns on her hand and arm. If I were to describe in detail the laborious procedures that were done to her over almost a year’s time, it would made you very uncomfortable. I still can’t erase the sight of the charred skin and exposed bone and skin-grafting. Ugh.
The donation of fetal tissue for medical research began in the mid-20th century. As abortion became legal and more available, fetal tissue donation became more common. Before that, hospitals treating women for miscarriages or compromised pregnancies were the primary sources of such tissue—which is highly valuable for research, because it grows more rapidly and is less likely to be rejected by immune systems. It can be transplanted into diseased organs, such as the brain or pancreas; tests have shown positive results with Parkinson’s, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses.
In 1974, one year after Roe v. Wade, President Reagan’s administration imposed a temporary moratorium on using federal funds for fetal-tissue transplantation. That moratorium was extended indefinitely in 1989, partly on the argument that it might encourage women to have abortions.
In 1993, President Clinton ended the moratorium, and Congress passed a bill permitting the tissue from any type of abortion, spontaneous or elective, to be used for research. There are specific consent and documentation requirements, and the sale or purchase of fetal tissue, or the designation of any specific individual to receive such tissue, is considered criminal. The same stipulations apply to organ donation, another strictly voluntary act that can save lives. (Have you indicated on your driver’s license that you consent?) Direct costs for the transfer of such tissue, which require special handling, are reimbursable. Those are the costs the Planned Parenthood representatives were discussing with the phony researchers on the video tapes.
Planned Parenthood’s procedure requires that a woman is presented with a consent form to donate fetal tissue only after she has made the decision to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion decisions are seldom made easily, and it may be some consolation to know that her decision could facilitate a stranger’s ability to receive a benefit.
If fetal-tissue research has been shown to be valuable and is already yielding results in treating everything from ebola to polio to rubella to spinal cord injury, what’s all the shouting about? Why did the Center for Medical Progress go after Planned Parenthood instead of our local hospitals, which may also provide fetal tissue for research?
Therein lies the politics of abortion: The goal of the center is to shut down Planned Parenthood and deny it any federal funding, even for services unrelated to abortion—in other words, to put them out of business. Federal funds are already prohibited from paying for abortion, but by characterizing Planned Parenthood as tearing apart babies and selling their body parts, the center hopes to disgust people enough that they’ll support defunding and closing the clinics, where 83 percent of patients receive health services unrelated to abortion—women who may have no other access to medical care.
According to U.S. News and World Report, human fetal cells “are used as incubators to replicate viruses for the production of vaccines against chickenpox, rubella, shingles, rabies, and hepatitis A.” Anti-abortion groups maintain that nobody should profit in any way from what they see as the killing of a baby—yet the members of these groups don’t seem to mind receiving the vaccinations or treatment that fetal tissue research has enabled.
As a community, we all benefit from discoveries that come from fetal-tissue research. Our neighbors work in Planned Parenthood clinics. Our neighbors access their health services. Instead of being politically manipulated by hyperbolic descriptions of a legitimate surgical procedure, people need to recognize there are women making a difficult choice that might save a life instead of merely ending the potential of a life. Let’s not let politics replace facts.