On Tuesday afternoon, Planned Parenthood announced that they will no longer take money for their fetal tissue donations. The organization will still offer the service to patients, but will no longer accept reimbursements for the service — despite such reimbursements being completely legal (and not resulting in profits for them). All of this comes on the tail of the backlash surrounding a series of videos that claimed Planned Parenthood profits from its fetal tissue donation (or what anti-abortion groups have been vehemently describing as "the sale of baby parts"). In a move that must have been both agonizing frustrating for the organization, and which comes as somewhat of a disappointment to me, Planned Parenthood was essentially forced to admit wrongdoing where none had been done.
Thankfully, this change in policy will not affect abortion patients who would like for their fetal tissue to be donated for the purposes of scientific research (a laudable decision which has majorly positive impact in the field of medical research). However, this change in policy can only be interpreted as a concession on the part of Planned Parenthood. A forced admission of guilt in a situation where it had not done anything illegal, and further, where Planned Parenthood hadn't done anything even remotely approaching unethical.
Contrary to the claim that Planned Parenthood was illegally amassing profits from selling fetal tissue, clinics participating in such programs were reimbursed for the cost of procuring the tissue. This practice is completely legal, so from the standpoint of pure principle and legality, there is absolutely no reason that Planned Parenthood should have to cease being reimbursed. As president Cecile Richards wrote:
Planned Parenthood’s policies on fetal tissue donation already exceed the legal requirements. Now we’re going even further in order to take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda.
What choice does Planned Parenthood have? The videos attacking it, leveraging false allegations, have led to the investigation of various clinics, increased anti-choice rhetoric from Republicans in Congress and conservative presidential candidates, and very real threats to defund Planned Parenthood altogether. This will culminate in December, when the government's spending stopgap bill will expire. Under such immense heat, if Planned Parenthood didn't make this concession over reimbursements, they'd continue to face the very real possibility of being stripped of all government funding.
Given this threat, Planned Parenthood had little choice other than to remove any money from the conversation about fetal tissue donation. As Cecile Richards wrote for Cosmopolitan last week:
The stated goal of these politicians [who are anti-Planned Parenthood] is to defund Planned Parenthood — blocking patients who rely on public health programs from coming to Planned Parenthood health centers for contraception, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infection, and other preventive care.
The fuss over these false allegations is only the latest attempt by the far right to defund Planned Parenthood and ultimately remove access to abortions. While it's unlikely that the battle over abortion access will end any time soon (not with a presidential election cycle happening), Planned Parenthood has done what it must to stop the accusations and thus do it's best to retain government funding for the time being.
It's exceptionally disappointing that our current political climate has forced the hand of an important institution to relent in their defense of a completely legal policy, but this announcement about fetal tissue procurement reimbursements should be enough to shush anti-abortion politicians — at least, until they come up with some other reason to go after Planned Parenthood.