Fact Check: The Planned Parenthood Controversy

by Jordan Mondell

“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 quote is from a video that 2016 Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina claims to have seen on the Internet. She stated this at a televised GOP debate, saying that the alleged video is why Planned Parenthood must be federally defunded for good. The only issue with this claim? It may likely be false. If this is the case, what other lies are being fed through the media to support the defunding efforts of Planned Parenthood?

To begin, it is important to note what services Planned Parenthood actually offers. Contrary to popular belief, Planned Parenthood does not exclusively offer access to abortion. In fact, abortions make up the smallest percentage of services offered. According to Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 report, only three percent of services offered were terminations of pregnancy. The majority of services lie in areas of pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment. Cancer screenings and prevention, prenatal care and, in some cases, primary care appointments make the list as well. All of these services are intended for underserved populations who do not have access to reliable health care, being funded by both private and federal agencies.

 If Planned Parenthood did not exist, public safety and health for those seeking abortion and other treatments would also decrease immensely. In the 1950s, the estimated number of illegal abortions was between 200,000 and 1.2 million. Fortunately, this number is at an estimated less than 10,000 per year. However, not only are these abortions illegal, they are still incredibly unsafe and often result in permanent damage, infection or death of the mother. Beyond providing access to safe abortions, Planned Parenthood aims to promote reproductive health and birth control. Many believe that this should not be a privilege, but a fundamental right. As Planned Parenthood has been debated time and time again in both the House and the Senate, an essential piece to this debate has been missing, and that piece is a woman’s right to her own reproductive health. Not only is this a battle of public health and ethics, but of a woman’s rights and individual choice.

The reason Planned Parenthood has been under such scrutiny has to do with a series of viral videos released in the Summer of 2015. These videos were shot in undercover fashion by The Center for Medical Progress, a California-based anti-abortion group, and were heavily edited before being released on the web for the public. The scenes depicted various discussions between officials of Planned Parenthood and an anti-abortion group member posing as a Planned Parenthood client. The discussions cover things such as cost, transportation and use of fetal tissue post-abortion.

These videos, however, leave out important details of the conversations held. For example, there is no mention that these tissues are being legally donated to research. Furthermore, there are no laws that prohibit the transference of fetal tissue to science labs for research and progress. Donation of aborted fetal tissue turns a very sad, difficult situation into something productive and essential to the scientific community. Tissues that would otherwise be disposed of are now being used for important medical research. Fetal cells are ideal in research settings as they multiply quickly, are not susceptible to rejection when transplanted and adapt to new environments easily.

Looking back, fetal tissue research is not a new scientific phenomenon. The first polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk right here at Pitt, was developed using the tissue of a fetus. Tissue is still used to develop vaccines for rubella, shingles and chickenpox. It is also being used to develop treatments for HIV, end-stage breast cancer and diabetes. Thanks to the use of fetal tissue research, many epidemic diseases and life-threatening illnesses have been completely eradicated.

Planned Parenthood is not an unnecessary convenience or luxury. These clinics are often a last resort for those facing detrimental health issues, seeking life-saving preventative care or in need of assistance in making one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. If it was defunded due to misinterpretation of facts and skewed media influences, it would be an incredible loss to communities everywhere. Planned Parenthood will always be subject to debate, whether it be in terms of legality or ethics, but it is still important to note the facts and stay informed.