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Planned Parenthood Stops Taking Reimbursements for Fetal Tissue

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Affiliates will no longer accept any reimbursements for costs associated with procuring tissue from abortions.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America said it is immediately stopping taking reimbursements for procuring fetal tissue for medical research, an attempt to tamp down controversy that has led to Republican investigations in Congress and efforts to end federal funding.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a letter Tuesday to the National Institutes of Health that the organization’s affiliates will no longer accept any reimbursements for costs associated with procuring tissue from abortions. Fetal tissue has been provided by affiliates in California and Washington state, and the Washington clinics haven’t been taking any money for it, she said. The Oregon affiliate has been providing placental tissue for reimbursement. Planned Parenthood didn’t disclose the amount it will forgo with its new policy.

A string of undercover videos released this summer by an antiabortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, spurred an angry backlash from Republicans. Abortion opponents said the videos showed Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue and changing abortion procedures to get better specimens. Planned Parenthood has said it broke no laws, and that the clinics legally received money to cover the cost of procuring, storing and transporting the tissue.

“The real goal of these extremists has nothing to do with our fetal tissue donation compliance process but is instead to ban abortion in the U.S. and block women from getting any health care from Planned Parenthood,” Ms. Richards wrote. “Today, we’re taking their smokescreen away.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood said the decision was made jointly by Ms. Richards, affiliates and chief medical officers.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s biggest abortion provider, performs about 327,000 abortions annually. It has repeatedly said that no federal funds were used for abortions except in limited circumstances allowed by federal law, such as cases of rape. Women having abortions must provide consent to donate the tissue, and Planned Parenthood has said women want that opportunity.

Under federal law, the tissue can be sent directly to university research centers or to third parties that process it and provide the material to researchers, but it is illegal to profit from tissue. Planned Parenthood has said it only procures fetal tissue for research, not transplantation, and it only recovers reasonable costs.

In her letter, Ms. Richards said the decision to forgo reimbursement shouldn’t be interpreted as a suggestion that other clinics should follow suit or that the law is weak, according to the letter to the NIH. She also said the organization will continue to give women the option to donate fetal tissue.

“Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue, and to expose our opponents’ false charges about this limited but important work,” Ms. Richards wrote.

The furor over the videos has become a rallying cry for the GOP and a central talking point among presidential candidates. Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown over conservative Republicans efforts to cut off about it should be nearly or almost. PPFA received $528 million from state, local and federal funds in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. More than 70% of that was from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program for the poor, typically to pay for services such as birth control, Pap tests, breast exams, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Four congressional committees have been investigating Planned Parenthood, and the House voted to form a special committee to probe the organization. So far, the investigations haven’t turned up evidence of illegal activity. House Republicans have also held hearings that have been testy at times, with Republicans calling the donation appalling and abortion as wrong. Democrats have said the hearings have largely been political shows by Republicans intent on denying women access to legal abortions.

States including Louisiana and Alabama have also moved to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding under Medicaid. The states’ moves have led to legal fights in the courts. About half a dozen states also launched investigations that haven’t turned up evidence Planned Parenthood broke federal laws in its procurement of fetal tissue.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), a Planned Parenthood supporter, said the new policy “makes total sense. Even though the law allows for reasonable expenses, this change eliminates any remaining argument by opponents and demonstrates how critical this type of research is for millions of Americans.”

It is unclear whether the decision to stop accepting reimbursement will appease Republicans who have said they are investigating if any laws were broken. Their questioning has probed issues other than fetal tissue donation, including funding the organization provides overseas and money Planned Parenthood has spent on lobbying, travel, parties, and other activities.

Planned Parenthood said they didn’t have an exact dollar figure of how much procuring tissue without getting reimbursed will cost them or the two affiliates.

Write to Stephanie Armour at [email protected]

via Wall Street Journal at WSJ.com

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