Controversy Over Planned Parenthood’s Fetal Tissue Research Increases

Much has changed since the Women’s Rights Movement. We have the right to vote, have equal opportunities for employment—though we’re still working on obtaining equal pay—and more freedom to choose what we do with our bodies. With a mission to provide health care services and educational programs for women and men so they can take control of and learn about their bodies, Planned Parenthood opened its doors in 1916. It has since been a leading figure of women’s rights and a trusted provider of affordable health care.

The most known service Planned Parenthood offers is abortion. Abortions, however, only make up 3% of Planned Parenthood’s overall work. Even though this number is small in comparison to all of the other services the organization has available—for example, pap tests, breast exams, as well as tests and treatments for STIs—it has been a huge topic of controversy for many years. With the recent release of five videos displaying Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue from abortions in a seemingly clinical and unaffected manner, uproar has begun anew. According to federal law, donated fetal tissue can legally be used for research. Making any sort of profit from it, on the other hand, is not.

Upon the release of these videos, Anti-Planned Parenthood protests have swept across the nation. Their goal is to end federal funding to Planned Parenthood; according to its annual report for 2012-2013 Planned Parenthood received about $540.6 million in government health services grants.

Reasons for the protests vary. Some believe public tax money should not be spent on an organization partaking in unethical activities. Others believe that abortions are unconstitutional, according to the 14th Amendment and other federal laws that protect the unborn. This list goes on and on. Still, the upheaval over the issue is only growing. At least 40 anti-Planned Parenthood groups are planning to protest outside various Planned Parenthood clinics and affiliate clinics on August 22. The protests and revelation of the videos even prompted action in the Senate. On August 3, the legislation that would have banned all federal funding to the organization ultimately failed to pass. The end vote was 53-46, 53 for and 46 against. The bill needed 60 to pass. It’s likely that other bills will reappear later in the year.

In response to the videos, Planned Parenthood made a statement that the videos were “highly edited” and have “taken the discussions out of context.” Planned Parenthood was also not making a profit from fetal tissue donations. Any money they receive is reimbursement for the costs of acquiring the tissue: the abortions legally performed. And while the protestors are focusing on the illegality of making a profit from fetus tissue donations and the ethics of abortion in general, they’re also forgetting to look at the benefits of fetal tissue research. This research, which has been around since the 1930s, has looked into possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, AIDS and muscular dystrophy. It has led to other discoveries for human health, including vaccines to prevent polio, mumps, measles and chicken pox. Defunding Planned Parenthood would also end other valuable services, especially for low-income families who can’t afford the high price of health care.

Aside from whether or not Planned Parenthood’s activities are ethical and legal, the overall issue of fetal tissue research and abortion will remain hot for many years to come. There are arguments for both sides: the ethics of killing a fetus (there’s additional debate as to when the fetus actually becomes a living baby) versus the benefits gained from research and the rights women have to their bodies. The divide between the two, especially in regards to Planned Parenthood, is fairly down-the-line. Any future bills that pass will probably be decided based on the most popular opinion. For now, Planned Parenthood will continue to provide health care services across the nation. Trust in the organization, however, has undoubtedly fallen.

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