Dear Planned Parenthood: You ROCK for Helping Patients Donate Fetal Tissue

It’s not a day that ends in “y” if anti-choice extremists don’t try to discredit or defund Planned Parenthood. When I worked for a Planned Parenthood affiliate, extremist terrorist groups targeted us, along with other affiliates relentlessly. Groups like Live Action and its spin-off the Center for Medical Progress used a variety of tactics to try to incriminate and intimidate Planned Parenthood staff and volunteers – phishing phone calls, video taken in exam rooms and waiting rooms, actors wearing wires, etc. Staff were recorded without their knowledge and then highly edited video and/or audio would be shared that dun dun dun “proved” that Planned Parenthood was evil. We were constantly on alert and were trained to not just do the jobs for which we were hired, but to identify and respond to threats. Some of the same groups and group members were also involved in clinic picketing, roadside protests, staff and patient harassment campaigns, fake websites that would direct potential patients to dummy sites loaded with viruses and pornographic images, and even clinic bombings and the assassination and attempted assassination of abortion providers.

It is kind of surreal to have to walk through a crowd of protesters each morning to get to work and to receive extensive training on the tactics of anti-choice extremists to stay safe. At work. Providing legal health care and education and advocating for healthy women, families and communities. To be shouted at. At work. To worry about being shot. At work. And this is just what staff members and volunteers experience. Planned Parenthood patients experience worse harassment for having the audacity to take care of their sexual and reproductive health – a fact I know first-hand, having been a Planned Parenthood patient for 20 years.

I vividly remember the day my name, along with several other staff and board members, was discovered by our security director on a website with blood dripping in the background, identifying us as butchers and marking which staff had been wounded and killed by extremists. It was chilling. Then, there was the time when my neighbors received post cards letting them know that I was a baby killer. We assumed that they looked up my address from the license plate of my car, while I was escorting outside the clinic (probably improperly using government resources). The problem with this tactic was that I was a proud Planned Parenthood supporter and all of my neighbors were well aware of that fact if they paid attention to my lawn signs and bumper stickers. But, can you imagine if I was a patient who had obtained abortion care? The people who do this are horrible human beings.

Their latest smear campaign seems so benign by comparison. As a pro-science advocate, I am really having a hard time wrapping my head around people’s objection to Planned Parenthood helping facilitate legal fetal tissue donation to support scientific research.

14329622976_2ae10f5741_zFetal cells are unique for research and therapeutic purposes, because they can rapidly divide, grow, and adapt. The results of early fetal cell research led to the development of several vaccines – preventing millions of children and adults from getting sick and dying worldwide. Without a woman making a heartbreaking choice to terminate a pregnancy after contracting rubella, we wouldn’t have the rubella vaccine. Without fetal tissue donation and research, we also wouldn’t have the vaccines for Hepatitis A, chicken pox, polio, and rabies. Don’t worry, vaccine development doesn’t create a demand for tissue. Because of fetal cells’ ability to be cultured, researchers can use cell lines created from cells donated back in the 1960’s. How cool is that?

Additionally, fetal tissue research has the potential to advance our knowledge of conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease and to develop effective therapies for these diseases. It can help us understand birth defects and genetic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes, with the potential to help scientists learn how alter the course of genetic development in the womb. Fetal tissue transplantation has even been explored as a therapeutic approach to treating a variety of diseases.

Fetal tissue research is amazing. So why are so many people up in arms?

Is it merely anti-choice rhetoric? People who are against abortion are also against patients donating that tissue? Guilt by association? Fear that more women will choose abortion? Think of the babies!

This doesn’t make much sense, because patients donate fetal tissue after the procedure happens. Providers are not even allowed to mention donation until after a woman decides to have an abortion, and the patient doesn’t benefit from it financially. Providers don’t either, but they can receive funds to cover the costs of storing and shipping the tissue. It’s not as if Planned Parenthood is trying to talk people into abortions so they can make $1 million on sales of fetal tissue.

Regardless of your views on abortion, perhaps a better question to ask is – if a person chooses to obtain a legal abortion, would you rather that they are able to donate the resulting fetal tissue to science or that the clinic dispose of that valuable resource as medical waste?

Is it because the doctor featured in the first video was matter of fact about a topic that some feel should be handled with more gravity? What was she supposed to do when explaining clinic protocol and procedures to people at a business meeting? Cry? There’s no crying in science.

This campaign is a part of a long game to not only defund Planned Parenthood, but to ban abortion and further marginalize women in our society. Already, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has introduced an amendment to the transportation bill to remove almost $500 million in funding for patient care and education, the first of a promised campaign to “defeat and defund” the agency (really 59 independent affiliates across the US). He also introduced an amendment to the tax code ending federal funding for the agency. Representative Diane Black (R-Tennessee) introduced the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would place an immediate one-year moratorium funding for Planned Parenthood, pending a Congressional investigation. An investigation, which incidentally will be conducted with taxpayer dollars. How is that fiscally responsible government? Can we also fund an investigation of anti-choice extremist groups and their tactics?

Remember, federal funds are NOT used for abortion care, except in very rare circumstances. They DO provide women, men and teens with needed sexual and reproductive health care, including exams, birth control, STD screening and treatment, HIV tests, cancer screenings, vaccinations and diagnostic and treatment care for cervical cancer at health centers across the country. If federal funds no longer cover those services, millions of people would not receive needed health care. And there would likely be a greater need for abortion.tumblr_lh9310luje1qzm1x5o1_500

I stand with Planned Parenthood and denounce the illegal and ridiculous tactics that extremists are once again trying and the more despicable and costly political response of GOP White House hopefuls and Congressional leadership. I hope more people can get past their ambivalence about or distaste for abortion and the fact that they probably have never had to think about what happens to aborted fetuses after the procedure, and recognize that fetal tissue donation and the science it makes possible is a beautiful choice.

Featured image credit: Joyce Harper, UCL

Video: PPAWI

Image of Vaccine: NIH


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. Yes, yes, yes!
    I sometimes think one of the best anti-anti-abortion protests (double negative, sorry) would be to carry around placards with pictures of any major surgical procedure. There’s a squick factor to all of them, and when it comes to abortion, the (single negative) antis really know how to capitalize on that. Are they aware that donor skin is used in recovery from some surgeries like radical mastectomies? Probably not, but they also don’t care to find out, because that squick wouldn’t get them anything.

  2. Here here. Even if you’re personally against abortion, there’s a lot of pragmatism involved: We know women are going to have abortions, and we know that tissue will go to waste unless they’re allowed to give it to medical research. We also know that said medical research will lead to further advances in prenatal care. (Though I can’t help but cynically note so-called ‘pro-life’ politicians’ connections to tobacco lobbyists.)

    And really, they’re talking about using, let’s call it Gastrulaghazi, at a time when most people are in favor of stem cell research?

    Truth be told, a lot of libel uses this same tactic. The tl;dr is, just because it’s on video doesn’t mean the video isn’t heavily edited.

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