On Wednesday morning, the antiabortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released its sixth video targeting Planned Parenthood, the nonprofit women’s health care provider. In what it labeled as the second part of its Human Capital Project series, Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician from StemExpress (a middleman company that connects biomedical researchers with donated fetal tissue specimens) featured in a previous Human Capital Project installment, describes her feelings about working with an abortion clinic as an opponent of abortion.
Unlike past CMP videos that have made allegations of illegal activity on the part of Planned Parenthood, this latest video instead focuses on O’Donnell’s personal discomfort in being around abortions and abortion patients. While she alleges that she witnessed fetal tissue specimens being collected for StemExpress without patient consent, she offers few specifics or hard proof.
Furthermore, she notes toward the video’s end that if an emotional patient ever asked her if she herself believed that the woman should have an abortion, O’Donnell would tell her to “run.”
It is an odd next installment in the ongoing series of attacks by the CMP on Planned Parenthood — a video less about alleged scandal, but rather a more traditional antiabortionist appeal to protect the so-called unborn.
More so than ever, the CMP videos seem to be a clearly orchestrated effort in coordination with GOP leadership to make abortion — and the defunding of Planned Parenthood of federal grants that support family planning and preventative health services — a prolonged and critical election-season topic.
“The arc of intensity lasts as long as people are watching and hearing and acting. You don’t want it to be just one day,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List told the Hill, of the “very smart” strategy utilized by the CMP of releasing one to two new videos targeting Planned Parenthood a week. This week’s installment seems to be a perfect case in point, with no newsworthy content in it, but an aggressive maneuver to ensure yet another week of media and political discussion regarding the legality and morality of abortion.
The Hill reports that Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., was but one of many Republican leaders invited to a screening of the CMP tapes held by antiabortion colleagues in Congress held “weeks before” the footage was publicly released. (It seems that Texas lawmakers weren’t the only ones given advance screenings of the antiabortion activist group’s videos targeting Planned Parenthood.)
Fellow antiabortion advocacy group Americans United for Life (AUL) has been consulting with the CMP since at least January, though the specifics of this relationship are still unclear. The Center for Medical Progress, however, has begun publicly releasing its videos only since July 14.
According to AUL’s site, the organization is “continually working to help legislators enact new pro-life laws that will go into effect and not be unnecessarily tied up in court so they can save lives today while continuing to roll back Roe v. Wade in the courts. To do that, we educate legislators on the issues and provide them with model legislation and legal advice on legislative language. We work hand-in-hand with legislations to minimize avoidable problems to activist judges can’t easily tie a good law up for years in court or strike it down completely.”
This year, AUL included on its legislative agenda what it calls the Dignified Final Disposition Act as a backdoor measure for state legislatures to make fetal tissue donation programs illegal in their states. Fetal tissue donation, a long-standing and legal practice that is critical to current biomedical research, has been the anchor issue of all of the CMP videos released to date.
The Center for Medical Progress describes its own work as “a 30-month-long investigative journalism study … documenting how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted babies. Citizen journalists at CMP spent two-and-a-half years logging thousands of research hours to painstakingly gather hundreds of hours of undercover footage, dozens of eye-witness testimonies, and nearly two hundred pages of primary source documents. This information will continue to be made available to the public at this site.”
It is thus unclear whether perhaps it was through AUL, and its “hand-in-hand” work with GOP leadership, that Republican lawmakers were able to gain advance access to CMP materials. Requests for comment to AUL from Yahoo Health as to timeline and scope of its consulting work for CMP had not been returned as of publication time.
Suspicions regarding possible coordination and collusion between the CMP and GOP leadership was raised as soon as the first video was released — and seemingly timed to correspond with a House vote regarding a bill that would have created a commemorative coin to benefit breast cancer research and support services. Half of the funds raised by the coin were set to go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer education, research, advocacy, and health and support services organization. Komen, however, gives grants to Planned Parenthood to conduct breast cancer screenings for women who are oftentimes unable to afford or access this type of care.
On the Tuesday morning of the first video’s release, the bill had 307 co-sponsors in Congress, including 142 Republicans. By Tuesday afternoon, following the release of the video, enough congressional Republicans had rescinded their support for the bill to effectively die it before it could even begin — purportedly because of their desire to not show support for an organization that funds Planned Parenthood (and, per the video’s unfounded allegations, the illegal sale of fetal organs).
Shortly after the release of the first CMP video came reports that House Republicans had been given access to the tapes far in advance of their public release.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said in a press conference the day after the release of the first CMP video that he had seen the video “weeks ago.” When pushed by reporters from Congressional Quarterly as to why he and other congressional leaders waited to take action in response to it, he quickly stated that he should not be quoted, saying, “This interview didn’t happen.”
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., likewise said the day after the first video’s release that he had seen the video about a month prior.
Last month, a bipartisan group of 49 senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell calling for the federal agency to cooperate in any ongoing and future investigations into Planned Parenthood and the federal regulations surrounding fetal tissue donation. At this time, there have been no indications of a lack of compliance on the part of HHS. Several state-led investigations — including those in Massachusetts and Indiana — have been closed after clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.
In a statement, Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, speaks to O’Donnell’s loose allegations that fetal tissue is collected without patients’ consent, saying:
“The video released today shows someone who has never worked for Planned Parenthood making false and outrageous claims, without any evidence to back them up.
“Planned Parenthood follows all laws — period. This latest video is part of a fraud intended to deceive the public and advance an extreme political agenda, and nothing on this video substantiates false claims from anti-abortion activists.
“In three states, when women want to donate tissue for critical medical research that can help treat or cure serious diseases, we have programs in place to help them do that. Those programs, like all of Planned Parenthood’s services, operate under the highest medical and legal standards.”