An editorial from the Chicago Tribune:
“So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, 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.” – Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, on how to preserve fetal organs for harvest during abortions
In that, the first of two surreptitiously recorded conversations to go public this month, a Planned Parenthood medical officer re-inflamed this nation’s civic war over abortion. The near-unanimous response of viewers has been to characterize Planned Parenthood’s practices and principles – either as professionally reasonable or diabolically evil:
▪ Abortion rights advocates see the videos as straightforward, if indelicate, explanations of how abortion doctors collect and convey fetal tissue for use in medical research. To these viewers, the videos are misleading efforts by anti-abortion activists to cherry-pick conversations – the better to portray abortion providers as uncaring, profit-driven ghouls. Many in this camp are, however, troubled by the physicians’ cavalier tone, as when Dr. Mary Gatter, president of Planned Parenthood’s Medical Directors’ Council, breezily discusses the promising possibility of “using a ‘less crunchy’ technique to get more whole specimens.”
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▪ Abortion opponents see the videos as proof that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, illegally sells human organs for profit. To these viewers, repeated suggestions from the doctors that Planned Parenthood wants only reimbursement for its costs are disingenuous; the doctors, meeting with anti-abortion activists masquerading as business brokers who procure tissue for research, freely discuss pricing. It doesn’t help that Nucatola says Planned Parenthood affiliates “want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.”
We’ve watched, and read, all we can in our attempt to parse these competing accusations of chicanery. But there lie dragons: The full videos, and 86 pages of transcripts, include statements and scenes that help each side make its case. Expect more videos – perhaps a dozen in all, released weekly – to … foment yet more competing accusations. It’s early.
For now we’ll set aside widespread revulsion over that cavalier tone from the physicians – most notoriously, Nucatola swirling wine and spearing salad as she explains why abortion doctors so often can’t extract heads without crushing them.
Obtaining information through deception, as the video-makers did, is its own debatable practice. And we’ve heard enough brutally frank discussions of horrifying facts at crime scenes (and in newsrooms) to know that the vernacular of many occupations shocks outsiders.
No, what riveted us was the raw surgical information the physicians shared – their candid explanations of the abortion provider’s techniques. The details are gruesome, even for shop talk. But they’re useful, because they help all of us evaluate whose concerns are paramount – those of abortion patients, or Planned Parenthood, or brokers of fetal tissue.
As Arthur Caplan, a renowned New York University medical ethicist, wrote in the Chicago Tribune last week, “there are hints that abortion procedures might be altered to obtain particular tissue” – procedures that should be “done solely with the health and safety of women in mind.”
Example: In the first video, Nucatola says, “I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps.” Moments later she says manipulating a fetus in the womb can increase the likelihood of extracting certain tissue: “So if you do it (abort) starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last, you can evacuate an intact calvarium (skull) at the end.”
Decide for yourself whether tailoring a medical procedure for organ harvesting is innocent or predatory.
But quite apart from questions of legality, ethics and patients’ prior consent, these explicit discussions add to public awareness of the multiple priorities that come into play when a patient steps into a clinic.
Women have the legal right to choose their medical procedures, abortions included. Women also deserve to know all they can about those procedures. Most Americans favor that transparency, which is why pollsters find so much support for “informed consent” regulations that demand explanations to patients of what abortions involve.
Improvements to ultrasound imaging and in utero photography have brought the formerly out-of-sight fetus into focus.
The words of Planned Parenthood doctors now add a realization the group hadn’t widely discussed: There is a market in fetal tissues – an exchange of money for organs extracted in ways that best preserve them for other purposes.
Choice is important. So is full knowledge of what you’re choosing.
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