Catching Up on the Planned Parenthood Controversy: Everything You Need to Know


Why has Planned Parenthood been in the news so much lately? Read on for the full timeline of events. (Photo: Corbis Images)

Last week brought about a grossly mishandled House hearing and a narrowly avoided government shutdown. The subject of both? Planned Parenthood.

The 99-year-old sexual and reproductive health care provider has made headlines after an antiabortion activist group accused it this summer of illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation programs — claims still unsubstantiated, but that almost resulted in a government shutdown last week.

Need to get up to speed on why everyone’s talking about Planned Parenthood? We’ve got you covered.

On July 14, the Center for Medical Progress released the “sting” video that started it all.

It’s the first of 10 “sting” videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an antiabortion group, targeting Planned Parenthood and the longstanding, legal practice of fetal tissue donation. The edited tape implies there is some sort of profit being made from the donation.

This particular video involved a secretly recorded lunch meeting where Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, explains how tissues and organs from aborted fetuses can best be removed for use in medical research.

Who is the man behind the “sting” tape?

David Daleiden, the 26-year-old founder of the CMP and an alum of Claremont McKenna College in California.


David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress. (Photo: The Center for Medical Progress)

An active member of Catholic and antiabortion student groups on campus, Daleiden went on to become the research director for a group called Live Action the summer after his sophomore year of college in 2009. (Live Action is an antiabortion activist group best known for its undercover “sting” videos.)

On July 16, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said in an interview that he had seen the first “sting” tape weeks before it was released — though he wouldn’t explain how he got his hands on it.

But when asked why he waited until the week of July 14 to take any action, Murphy struggled to come up with an answer — ultimately telling reporters, “This interview didn’t happen.”

On July 21, the CMP released its second “sting” tape — this one addressing compensation for fetal tissue donations.

In this video, Daleiden and another individual pretend to be employees from a made-up biomedical materials procurement company called BioMax as they meet with Dr. Mary Gatter, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Medical Directors’ Council.


Dr. Mary Gatter appears in the second “sting” tape. (Photo: Center for Medical Progress)

Gatter is asked what she expects for compensation for fetal tissue donation. She responds by saying, “Well, why don’t you start by telling me what you’re used to paying?” The video is edited to eliminate contextual comments, and it’s also worth noting that Gatter does not participate in any illegal activity or make any questionable statements regarding the federally mandated compensation of costs for providers who participate in fetal tissue donation programs. Gatter also mentions in the video that different procedures can be used in first-trimester abortions for women who elect to participate in fetal tissue donation to increase the odds of having usable specimens.

On July 28, the CMP released a (particularly graphic) third tape.

This video, the first in CMP’s “Human Capital Project” series, shows explicit footage and images of fetal parts, identifying the brain, legs, and arms of a first-trimester fetus, seemingly taken at a Planned Parenthood affiliate in California.

The video focuses on the first-person story of Holly O’Donnell, a phlebotomist formerly employed by StemExpress, a California-based company that acts as a “middleman” collecting human blood, tissue products, and stem cells from abortion providers, processing them, and then selling them to biomedical researchers. Through StemExpress, O’Donnell was staffed at several Planned Parenthood locations.


Holly O’Donnell appears in the third “sting” tape. (Photo: Center for Medical Progress)

In the tape, O’Donnell provides her (unverified) first-person account of what her training was like in handling fetal tissue and the process of preparing donated fetal tissue specimens. Her commentary is overlaid with unrelated undercover footage taken at a Planned Parenthood affiliate clinic, in which Daleiden, under his BioMax persona, is shown the clinic’s lab and fetal tissue specimens.

On July 29, Massachusetts found Planned Parenthood free of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Texas began its investigation of the group.

Prompted by the release of the CMP videos, Massachusetts began its own state-level investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices: It found that the state’s Planned Parenthood health centers were fully compliant with fetal tissue laws.

That same day in Texas, recently indicted state attorney general Ken Paxton testified about Planned Parenthood before the state senate’s Committee on Health and Human Services, which had launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood. Paxton had launched his own personal investigation into Planned Parenthood, too. While he acknowledged to the committee that Planned Parenthood is in compliance with all state regulations regarding fetal tissue donation, his incentive for launching his own investigation was the “true abomination” of abortion.

Of note: Just a week earlier, Paxton had invited committee members to his office for a screening of unedited CMP footage filmed at the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. (The edited version of that footage would later be released to the public.) Paxton refused to testify under oath how he came to acquire the unedited CMP footage filmed in his state.

That same day in Los Angeles, a Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order barring the CMP from releasing any footage involving current employees or leadership of StemExpress.

On July 30, the CMP released its fourth tape — just as Indiana found Planned Parenthood free of wrongdoing.

Like the others, this CMP tape claimed that Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics profit from fetal tissue donation. This tape utilizes a new batch of highly edited, secretly recorded footage.

That same day, the Indiana State Department of Health closed its own state-level investigation into Planned Parenthood prompted by the release of the CMP videos, finding the health care provider to be in compliance with all state regulations and free of any wrongdoing.

On Aug. 3, the Senate blocked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

Senate Republican leadership failed to garner the 60 votes needed to eliminate Planned Parenthood as a Title X provider. (Title X is the federal grant program providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services, including contraception. Most people who utilize Title X are uninsured and have incomes below the federal poverty level; Title X funding cannot be used for abortion.)

That same day, Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal announced that he was ending his state’s Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood.

On Aug. 4, the CMP released its fifth tape — this one addressing abortions done at or after 20 weeks of gestational age.

This tape includes footage secretly recorded at the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast affiliate clinic in Houston, Texas, and speaks directly to the ongoing push from conservative lawmakers to implement a federal ban on abortions done at or after 20 weeks (as is already the law in Texas).

On Aug. 11, more GOP lawmakers admitted to seeing advanced screenings of the CMP footage.

Rep. Marcia Black (R-Tenn) told The Hill that she was shown the CMP tapes weeks before the first tape was publicly released. Black, who has become a vocal leader in GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, did not provide comment on why she sat silent on the information if she believed that any laws had been broken.

On Aug. 12, the CMP released its sixth tape as more states closed investigations.

The second part of the “Human Capital Project” series, this tape again features former StemExpress employee Holly O’Donnell. This video focuses on O’Donnell’s personal discomfort in being around abortions and abortion patients.

That same day, the Georgia and South Dakota health departments found Planned Parenthood to be in compliance with fetal tissue donation regulations.

In Florida, the state’s claims to have found Planned Parenthood in violation of state regulations regarding second trimester abortion were found to be false, having been created vis-a-vis linguistic maneuvering on the part of Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.

On Aug. 19, the CMP released its seventh tape — this one purporting to show the still-beating heart of a 20-week fetus that had been aborted.

The video is the latest “Human Capital” installment. In it, Holly O’Donnell details the process by which she was instructed to procure organs from the fetus, and that she was called to come and look at the still-beating heart of a fetus.


Footage from the seventh “sting” video. (Photo: Center for Medical Progress)

The CMP later admitted it used imagery of a stillborn child named Walter Fretz in this tape — and that the footage of the fetus was not taken at a Planned Parenthood affiliate clinic, as was heavily implied in the video. (Walter’s mother said that she was not asked for permission by CMP to use the imagery of Walter.)

Meanwhile, a representative from StemExpress confirmed to Yahoo Health that while O’Donnell had in fact been an employee there, the details of her employment were different than she suggested. O’Donnell said in an earlier CMP video that she had applied to the company for a phlebotomist position and was unwittingly assigned to fetal tissue procurement work, but StemExpress representative said that she explicitly applied for a procurement technician position.

On Aug. 25, the CMP released its eighth tape — this one accusing StemExpress of procuring “intact” fetuses. But StemExpress says these claims are false.

This video shows footage from a lunch meeting in California attended by Cate Dyer, the CEO of StemExpress. It implies that Dyer and StemExpress frequently and regularly procure and ship intact fetuses for research purposes. Dyer is heard saying in the video: “I mean, if you have intact cases, which we’ve done a lot, we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety.”

In actuality, Dyer was not discussing intact fetuses, but rather intact fetal livers. StemExpress said it has never received an intact fetus from any of its partner health care providers, nor shipped an intact fetus to any of its research partners.

On Aug. 27, an independent report showed that the “sting” videos are full of inaccuracies.

The report, commissioned by Planned Parenthood and conducted by the independent forensics and research firm Fusion GPS, was sent to congressional leadership by Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.


Cecile Richards is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fusion GPS assembled three teams of experts in video forensics, production, and transcription to review five of the secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood staff released by the CMP.

Around this time, legal troubles mounted for the CMP.

These troubles included:

  • Arizona’s Attorney General subpoenaed the CMP for the original source footage of the tapes.

  • StemExpress won a temporary restraining order against the CMP in July, though a judge ruled in late August that the group’s First Amendment rights prevented StemExpress from being able to block the release of the tapes under privacy claims.

  • The National Abortion Federation (NAF), another organization covertly filmed by the CMP, filed a federal suit against the CMP, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the release of footage taken at NAF meetings.

  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the IRS regarding the CMP violating federal laws in procuring tax-exempt status.

  • California Attorney General and senate candidate Kamala Harris began an investigation into the CMP and its potential violations of California law in its production of its undercover videos.

On Sept. 1, the CMP released its ninth “sting” tape.”

It showed a secretly filmed conversation with a representative for biomedical material procurement company ABR, where the representative discusses how the company procures fetal tissue products.

On Sept. 9, the first congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood was held to examine the group’s abortion practices.

The House Judiciary Committee commenced the first of its series of hearings (this one was titled “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider”) intended to examine fetal tissue donation and abortion practices at Planned Parenthood. Present at the hearing: abortion survivors (that is, people who were born following unsuccessful abortions). Not present at the hearing: Anyone who was actually from Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

On Sept. 15, the 10th CMP “sting” tape was released. Meanwhile, the GOP offered “compromise” plans for Planned Parenthood funding to avoid a government shutdown.

The first plan, suggested by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), would cut off federal funding from Planned Parenthood affiliates that “sell” fetal tissue. (Only thing is: No Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics ”sell” fetal tissue for profit.) Dent’s proposal also provides for a mandatory 90-day investigation into Planned Parenthood by the U.S. Attorney General’s office and additional restrictions on the ways physicians are able to perform abortions when a woman has given her consent to donate her fetal tissue.

The second plan, proposed by Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, would eliminate funding only to clinics participating in fetal tissue donation.

Note: As of right now (Oct. 9), the government is temporarily funded through mid-December, with federal funding for Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid and Title X provider intact. But a shutdown is still possible once the current budget measure expires — so we can probably expect to hear more about these “compromise” plans again in the future.

On Sept. 16, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described and condemned a non-existent tape during the GOP debate.


Carly Fiorina during the GOP debate on CNN. (Photo: Corbis Images)

During the debate on CNN, she looked straight into the camera and said, “Anyone who has watched this videotape — I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, to watch these tapes — watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation, and if we do not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”

The video of which Fiorina speaks, however, does not exist — though just a few days later, the Carly For America Super PAC would manufacture its own spliced-together version of the tape Fiorina described in the GOP debate and post it on its YouTube channel.

Related: The Psychology of Why Carly Fiorina Continues To Defend Planned Parenthood Claims

On Sept. 18, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood and implement a federal abortion ban.

Congress passed two bills, H.R. 3134, and H.R. 3504, aiming to block legal abortion and roll back millions of Americans’ access to essential reproductive health care:

The first, H.R. 3134, prohibits availability of any federal funds to Planned Parenthood or its affiliate clinics nationwide for one year unless the organization certifies that none of its clinics will perform abortions during that time period. However, the Senate blocked this measure from passing on Sept. 24.

The second bill Congress passed, H.R. 3504, also known as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, would amend the federal criminal code to require any health care practitioner present when a child is “born alive” following an abortion or attempted abortion to: (1) exercise the same degree of care as reasonably provided to any other child born alive at the same gestational age, and (2) ensure that such child is immediately admitted to a hospital. Physicians could face prison time and ciivl suits for lack of adherence. The Senate has yet to vote on this bill.

On Sept. 22, the Senate blocked the federal 20-week abortion ban bill.

Senate Republicans failed to secure the 60 votes needed to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the measure passed by the House in May that would have implemented a federal 20-week abortion ban with extremely limited exceptions.

The vote is historic in that it was the first time the Senate had been called on to vote on a 20-week federal abortion ban, despite the measure having been raised multiple times in the House.

On Sept. 25, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his resignation — a decision fueled by Planned Parenthood and budget negotiations.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) shocked congressional colleagues and pundits alike when he announced his resignation from both the Speakership and Congress effective at the end of October.


John Boehner will resign the Speakership at the end of October. (Photo: Corbis Images)

Boehner, a conservative with a staunch anti-abortion record, ultimately decided to leave the game, rather than continue to lead a party that insisted he was not conservative enough to force President Obama into a shutdown situation by vetoing a budget that necessitated the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Related: The Twisted Way Reproductive Rights Brought Down Staunch Pro-Lifer John Boehner

On Sept. 29, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testified before Congress about the federal funds received by the organization.


Cecile Richards testifying before Congress. (Photo: Getty Images)

It was the first time Richards testified before Congress since the release of the “sting” videos. During the hearing, Richards was repeatedly challenged on her salary, how clinical breast cancer screenings are conducted (and why they are not the same as mammograms), and any correlations between number of abortions performed and number of cancer screenings performed. (Even though the hearing was supposed to be about fetal tissue donation practices.)

Related: Democrats Chide GOP for ‘Mistreatment’ of Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards

Meanwhile, H.R. 3495, the Women’s Public Health and Safety Act, passed the House and headed to the Senate for its vote. The bill would allow individual states to eliminate any healthcare provider who performs or participates in abortion care as a Medicaid provider within that state.

The Obama administration issued a statement of administration policy voicing the President’s intent to veto such legislation if necessary.

On Sept. 30 — the last day available to pass a budget before forcing a government shutdown — Congress agreed to temporarily fund the government through mid-December.

Federal funding for Planned Parenthood remains in the temporary budget measure but will be once again taken up when this latest measure expires before 2016.

On Oct. 7, the GOP voted to establish another congressional committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.

This means House Republicans will continue their investigation of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program.

On Oct. 8, Congress held another hearing about Planned Parenthood — during which a now-retired anti-abortion doctor was asked to testify regarding abortion care and a constitutional scholar was asked whether she would approve of her dog being aborted.

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