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Planned Parenthood under fire: Is fetal tissue donation legal?

Three states have launched investigations into the possible sale of aborted fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood.

Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio are investigating Planned Parenthood facilities to determine if they have sold organs from aborted fetuses.

Officials ordered investigations and probes announced by three Republican-led congressional committees following the release of an undercover video made by anti-abortion activists, which shows Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services discussing procedures for providing fetal body parts to researchers.

The video was recorded during a lunchtime conversation between Deborah Nucatola and anti-abortion activists posing as potential buyers for a human biologics company.

Dr. Nucatola is heard in the video talking about efforts to retrieve organs during an abortion procedure. She also gives a range of monetary procurement estimates, but at one point she says “Nobody should be 'selling' tissue. That's just not the goal here.”

Planned Parenthood said the monetary sums mentioned by Nucatola were for reimbursement of the clinics' costs in handling the tissue donations. The non-profit which provides abortions and other reproductive health services also noted that Nucatola had been "reprimanded,” but did not elaborate.

The organization's president, Cecile Richards, apologized for the tone of some of Nucatola's recorded statements. In a statement published on Tuesday she dismissed the claims of selling fetal organs:

In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does -- with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.  In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

The same day, the California-based Center for Medical Progress, which shot the video covertly last year, said the Planned Parenthood statement makes clear that the organization “aborted fetal parts are harvested” and the organization clinics, and “money is exchanged in connection with this." It also added:

The Center for Medical Progress has obtained an advertisement to Planned Parenthood clinics from StemExpress, LLC, one of the major purchasers of Planned Parenthood’s aborted fetal tissue. This flyer advertises 4 different times the financial benefit that Planned Parenthood clinics can receive from supplying fetal tissue, with the words: “Financially Profitable,” “Financial Profits,” “financial benefit to your clinic,” “fiscal growth of your own clinic.” The advertisement carries an endorsement from Planned Parenthood Medical Director Dr. Dorothy Furgerson.

Donation of fetal tissue for medical research purchases is legal. However, purchase of tissue, solicitation or acceptance of tissue as directed donation for use in transplantation and solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes is unlawful if the transfer affects interstate commerce, according to federal law. A person who violates the laws will be fined or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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