COMMENTARY: The Planned Parenthood videos and Congress

By Jo Ann Fields, M.D.

The U.S. House Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Sept. 29, held a hearing on whether to discontinue funding for Planned Parenthood. There was only one witness — Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. Over four and a half hours, committee members grilled Ms. Richards about funding, tax returns, political activities and the controversial, undercover videos.

Their most frequent questions centered on wanting to know which Planned Parenthood affiliates receive the majority of revenues from abortion services and the amount of revenue by affiliate for abortion services.

They asked for the names of organizations and the countries that Planned Parenthood gives funds to overseas. They were concerned about the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a political arm of the organization.

Jo Ann Fields, M.D.
Jo Ann Fields, M.D.

For example, they asked about the sharing of employee time, including Ms. Richards’ time, between political activities and non-political activities. They questioned the amount of travel expenses.

Ms. Richards submitted audited, certified financial statements to help answer those questions.

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) questioned Ms. Richards. Rep. Black is a sponsor on the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.

Rep. Diane Black: “You made a statement that quality, affordable health care is your entire mission. Why would you not make an executive decision, then, to temporarily discontinue your abortion services, which only represents, by your testimony, 3 percent of the services that you provide, and continue providing what you consider to be your entire mission of 97 percent of the services provided? “

Ms. Cecile Richards: “Because abortion is a legal service in America. Quality and affordable health care. That includes access to quality and affordable abortion services, as well.”

Rep. Black: “Do you say that abortion is health care?”

Ms. Richards: “Yes, it’s a health care service for women. In fact, 3 in 10 women in this country have accessed an abortion at some point.”

Rep. Black: “So you define abortion as health care.”

Ms. Richards: “It absolutely is part of women’s health care and I think women would agree.”

Rep. Black: “Well, I’m a nurse, and if you look at medicine, abortion is not health care. It is not considered to be health care.”

The undercover videos of Planned Parenthood were not shown during this hearing, but congressional representatives did comment on the videos. Some said the videos show Planned Parenthood staff negotiating to sell body parts of aborted fetuses for a profit. Others said the videos show Planned Parenthood staff discussing how they set charges to cover costs, not to make a profit, for donating fetal tissue to medical research.

I have not seen all the videos, but I have seen the first one. In the first video, Deborah Nucatola, MD, who provides abortion services at a Planned Parenthood clinic in California, and two undercover people — a man and a woman — are meeting in a restaurant.

Two hours and 10 minutes into the video, we hear a powerful story about why Dr. Nucatola does what she does.

A woman out of view of the camera asks Dr. Nucatola: “How about you? How did you come to be in this?”

Dr. Nucatola responds: “I will tell you the date. I was on call. It was my last day. When you’re a resident in OB-GYN, you spend a dedicated amount of time in obstetrics and a dedicated amount of time in gynecology. In your senior year, it’s four months of each. So February 28, 1998, was my last day of GYN ever as a resident, and then I would be done.

“In July I would graduate, and then I would be an OB-GYN. And on that day, there was a patient that was transferred to me from an outside clinic who had had a D&E, dilation and evacuation — late second-trimester abortion — was bleeding.

“That patient was transferred to me. She got to the hospital. I met her in the emergency room and I saw her, and she was as white as this napkin. I saw her name and I knew everything about her. She looked up to me and said, ‘Don’t let me die.’ And she actually bled to death. We did a hysterectomy in about 12 minutes and she died. It was very distressing to me and very upsetting. I probably had a very different reaction than most people which was … Well, I do D&Es all the time and I don’t ever have any complications and I think I’m pretty good at them.

“So, I need to keep making sure that there are lots of people who can keep doing these D&Es safely so that there’s not another patient like this. So, that was the day I said I’m not going to do perinatology, which is high-risk obstetrics. I’m going to do family planning. I’m going to train other providers to do family planning.”

Both sides of the debate are using the Planned Parenthood videos. Taxpayers and our elected officials, by right, are questioning how Planned Parenthood spends their money. Congresswoman Diane Black is proposing legislation based on her belief that abortion is not even part of women’s health care.

I think the young woman who died of a botched abortion in Dr. Nucatola’s hospital in 1998 would say that safe abortion most definitely is part of women’s health care.

The law of the land says that a woman has a right to choose to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood continues to defend that right and to provide quality, affordable abortion services.

Editor’s note: Jo Ann Fields, M.D., has been a primary-care physician in Kent County for 19 years.

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