Planned Parenthood video Stage 3: New York Times explores an ethics question!

I don't avoid the world of advocacy journalism online, but I also strive not to live there. However, I often bump into links that take me into liberal and conservative "news" sites and, every now and then, you hit some interesting info worth exploring (especially when there are URLs to original documents and sources).

If journalists are willing to do that kind of thing, this work could be part of what I called -- in an earlier post -- the Stage 3 coverage of the Planned Parenthood video story.

One such site is The Blaze, which actually has a piece online pointing toward some interesting trails. Click here to go there. Let's start here:

While activists have doubled down, Planned Parenthood responded ... by dismissing the allegation and claiming that its clinics simply help women who wish to donate the tissue of aborted fetuses to scientific research. On the other hand,, a fact-checking website, labeled the claim against Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress, a pro-life group, as “undetermined” based on the evidence.

Precisely! "Undetermined," as in journalists cannot avoid doubting and exploring the truth claims offered by Planned Parenthood and the same goes for its critics. What we need here is old-school journalism, which requires showing some skepticism after reading the press releases on both sides.

The Blaze team then talked -- wonder of wonders -- to a pro-life activist outside of the New York City-Washington, D.C., corridor who has (gasp) not made his mind up when it comes to judging the final outcome of this case.

Dr. Dennis Sullivan, director of the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University Cedarville, Ohio, told TheBlaze on Wednesday that comments in the controversial video from Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, do not definitively show that the organization is selling fetal parts, adding that the dynamic is a complicated one.
“The issue really settles around the legality of what can be done with the tissue [taken during] a legal procedure,” Sullivan said. “What is legal is that human fetal tissue can be donated with the request of the woman who’s undergoing the procedure.”

And then:

“The fact that this is an organization [that] we love to hate does not mean necessarily that what they’re doing is illegal,” he said.
There are other problematic issues in the clip, though, that Sullivan said need to be addressed.
“Now, we go to the way [Nucatola] addresses the issue in her cynical, casual attitude about how we can get better baby parts and, ‘Oh, if we arrange forceps differently.’ ‘Let’s pinch here’ — this is very, very bothersome to anyone who would watch the video,” he said. “So, when you see the cynical, casual attitude of the speaker … that’s what I think is causing a lot of objection.”
Sullivan also said that the way in which Nucatola allegedly described how some organs can be harvested creates questions about whether organ procurement is taking precedence over the abortion itself. ...

Ugly? Yes. Unethical? You can make a strong case for that. Illegal? This conservative thinker says people have more work to do before using that term. Let's hope that some of those people are mainstream, even elite, journalists.

Speaking of which, the current New York Times coverage of this story -- surprise, surprise -- leads with politics and more politics. The headline: "House Republicans to Investigate Planned Parenthood Over Fetal Tissue."

Sigh. This paragraph captures the tone of the first half of this story:

The release of the video and subsequent House investigation opens a new round in the partisan wars over Planned Parenthood that have raged since the Republicans took control of the House four and a half years ago. This time, Republicans running for president eagerly joined in, promising to stoke the furor, as anti-abortion conservatives took to social media to demand action.

The story is conservatives getting mad about the video, you see, not the dark questions raised by the content of said video. Noted.

Then, lo and behold, the second half of the story dug into some real issues linked to this case. Check this out:

The Planned Parenthood official in the video, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services, mentions StemExpress, a five-year-old business in Placerville, Calif., that describes itself as “the largest provider of maternal blood and fetal tissue globally.” The Sacramento Business Journal reported in November that the company’s revenue had grown by more than 1,300 percent in three years, and Inc. magazine in August put its yearly revenue at $2.2 million.
The company, which advertises “special discounts to the academic community,” sells tissue from fetuses, afterbirth and cadavers, including fetal livers and liver stem cells -- Dr. Nucatola says in the video that fetal livers are much in demand -- as well as placentas, umbilical cords, skin, diseased tissue and tumors. Some of the materials are highly processed, and the prices reflect that: The company’s catalog shows that a vial of two million fetal liver cells sells for $2,240.
By contrast, Dr. Nucatola said in the video that Planned Parenthood clinics might charge $30 to $100 for a fetal specimen, to recover the costs of preserving, transporting or shipping.

Doesn't this make you want to head over to the StemExpress website and dig around? But there's a problem -- as noted in these screenshots from, a conservative news and commentary site.

This leads us back to The New York Times, which does appear to have clicked some relevant links before "maintenance mode" went into effect.

A brochure on the StemExpress website quotes Dr. Dorothy L. Furgerson of the Planned Parenthood chapter in Mar Monte, Calif., saying, “Our partnership with StemExpress is beneficial in a number of ways,” including contributions to “lifesaving research.”
Prices for companies’ fetal materials can reach thousands of dollars, but the sales are not illegal, said Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. Still, he said, abortion providers like Planned Parenthood face ethical considerations, as well as the appearance of potential conflicts of interest when they take fees for fetal tissue acquired from patients.
Dr. Caplan said one practice that Dr. Nucatola described in the video was clearly unethical: manipulating the fetus in the womb and using surgical tools in ways meant to preserve certain organs for researchers.
“You cannot, must not, alter how or when you do an abortion simply to obtain tissues you want,” Dr. Caplan said. “Basically, the only concern is the health and safety of the mother.”

Again, unethical may or may not be illegal. But it could a good sign, journalistically speaking, that the Times team is starting to talk to people at a level deeper than the usual political rodeos.

What else is in that crucial brochure?

Reporters, want to read that for yourself? The activists that started all of this have a .pdf for you right here. Note the presence of these phrases in the discussion of work with branches of Planned Parenthood -- "financially profitable," "financial profits," "financial benefit to your clinic" and "fiscal growth of your own clinic."

Let me conclude this update with an obvious URL, pointing you toward a massive media-coverage wrap by former GetReligionista M.Z. Hemingway, whose Twitter work has been -- #DUH -- a source of journalism heat and light ever since this story broke. You don't have to agree with her. You do have to read her.

I loved this bit about the man behind the video, drawn from the Planned Parenthood press release published by Newsweek:

The center’s leader, David Daleiden, has written anti-abortion literature for The Weekly Standard and is referenced on the pro-life website of Jill Stanek. Files uploaded by Daleiden to Scribd include “Prayers for the day,” which Daleiden describes as “one way to structure your prayer life throughout the day that some people may find helpful.” ...

Take it away, MZ:

I joke about journalists being hostile to Christians, but I’m not sure I’ve seen someone’s prayer life used in an attempt to discredit someone. I’m almost impressed. Horrified, mostly, but also kind of impressed at how anti-religious the journalism is.

Stay tuned.

Please respect our Commenting Policy