The internet is abuzz about recently released video that looks very damning for Planned Parenthood in general, and their Medical Services Director, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, in particular.
Not many people will have time to slog through the entire video, nearly three hours of the lunch meeting between two investigators from the Center for Medical Progress and Dr. Nucotela. I embedded it in this post, with a timeline of what is discussed at what point during the video so that my readers can easily find the sections they're looking for.
I myself got sucked into believing the allegations put forth using the edited video. The gist of the edited video is false. The conversation with Dr. Nucotela in no way supports a claim that Planned Parenthood is performing illegal partial-birth abortions in order to harvest fetal organs for profit. Only after taking the time to watch the entire unedited video did I realize how wrong I had been to take the edited video at face value.
In this post I want to discredit the most inflammatory and flat-out false aspect of the editing. In the edited video, Dr. Nucotela is using the first person in a way that seems to indicate how she plays an "Oops! My bad!" approach to pretend she's not breaking the Partial Birth Abortion Ban even as she perpetrates such abortions in order to harvest fetal heads. The editing was done so slickly that I was suckered in myself, and to my shame I even posted an analysis of the adeptly edited video in order to support the false allegation.
Let's examine the edited video.
The Edited Video
The portion that appears so damning begins at 3:19, in which Dr. Nucotela says, "The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium. Calvarium -- the head -- is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact." After a cut, she continues, "It's very rare to have a patient that doesn't have enough dilation to evacuate all the other parts intact."
At 3:36 she describes how the other structures can be brought out undamaged by careful placement of the forceps during the abortion. This is not related to the accusation that she is performing Partial Birth Abortions.
At 3:53 she says, "And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it's not vertex, because when it's vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have a real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium..So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there's dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last step, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken to try to ensure -- " Under prompting she reiterates that the fetus can be turned so that the feet, not the head, will be extracted first.
There is then, at 4:28 a cut that compares the feet-first positioning as consistent with Partial Birth Abortion. The edit is implying something Dr. N assuredly does not say. At no point is she indicating that the entire fetus is removed intact. She says that the head is removed intact. In the context of her other comments during this section of the conversation, as shown in the unedited video, she is describing removing the head last as part of perfectly legal dismemberment abortion. Gruesome, yes. Illegal, no.
At 4:37 the video cuts back to Dr. Nucotela, who explains more clearly what she has already described. Again, gruesome but not illegal. At 4:53 the video cuts to screen noting that partial birth abortion is a felony, and that if the fetus is extracted intact and alive it is a born-alive infant and killing it is homicide. The implication -- a false implication -- is that Dr. Nucotela had just admitted to performing these illegal abortions and delivering live fetuses, since the last step of the partial-birth abortion is puncturing and collapsing the skull, thus killing the fetus but also collapsing the head that she is supposedly extracting for sale.
At 5:07 the video cuts back to Dr. Nucotela describing the federal PBA ban. In the context of the edited video, presented immediately after her description of doing a breech presentation and the misleading cut to the information about PBA, Dr. Nucotela says, "The Federal Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation." There is then a cut to 5:14 where she says what seems to be the most damning part of the entire video: "So if I say on day one, I do not intend to do this, what ultimately happens doesn't matter." This edit is clearly intended to portray Dr. Nucotela as saying that she evades the PBA ban by claiming that she didn't intend for the fetus to come out intact, thus enabling her to harvest the fetal head. This is the single most inexcusable use of editing to lie about what Dr. Nucotela was really saying.
The Unedited Truth
In the unedited video, from 23:45 to about 28:13, Dr. N. addresses the ethics of modifying the procedure to procure tissue. She says that she will keep in mind what tissue is wanted and think about what patients she can get it from, but doesn't do extra dilation to increase the chances of getting the desired tissue out intact. From 28:14 to about 31:00, Dr. N is asked what she might. might do differently if she has in her mind that the researcher wants an intact liver or, more tricky, a delicate and undamaged brain. This is where Dr. N. says that since livers are wanted so much the practitioner would do those abortions under ultrasound guidance. In this section she goes back and forth between the issue of the calvarium and noting that if the practitioner is trying to preserve a specific organ he will crush above or below in order to avoid damaging that organ. She goes back to inverting the fetus to a breach presentation so that there is dilation as the procedure progresses. The preparation, she says, is the same, it's a matter of what order the removal is done in. She is clearly discussing the legal dismemberment abortion.
It is not until nearly an hour later, at 1:20:05 to 1:21:25 that the PBA ban first comes up, in the context of using Digoxin to kill the fetus the day before the extraction is done. The mention of PBA is only brief, and is in a context of which facilities would provide fetuses that had not been killed by digoxin prior to being extracted. (A fetus that had been killed with Digoxin would not be suitable for tissue or organ procurement.)
The topic of the PBA ban is entirely dropped. The conversation doesn't even get close to the topic for about another 20 minutes when one of the supposed buyers asks Dr. N about getting abortion practitioners to change their abortion methods in order to obtain desired body parts at 1:40:22. He ends by flat out asking if a practitioner would refrain from using Digoxin if asked to do so in order to obtain a fetal head intact.
It is here, from about 1:41:05 to 1:43:06, that Dr. N begins the actual discussion of the PBA ban, and she does it in the context of explaining about why practitioners do or do not use digoxin, and at what stage of pregnancy they use it if they use it at all.. "Providers who use digoxin use it for one of two reasons, she explains. "There is a group of people just who use it so they have no risk of violating federal abortion bans. If you induce demise before you do the procedure, nobody's gonna say say you did a (air quotes) live .... whatever the federal government calls it. Partial birth abortion." She goes on to say, "Others do it because they actually think it makes the tissue softer and it makes it safer and easier to do the procedure." She speaks of the lack of research data, then we finally have the portion in which she says that the PBA ban is a law, "and laws are up to interpretation." She further explains, "So there are some people who interpret it as, 'It's intent, so if I say on Day One I do not intend to do this, what ultimately happens doesn't matter because I didn't intend to do this on Day One so I'm complying with the law.'"
Note that the use of the first person is not to describe what she does herself. It is to explain the thinking of practitioners who choose not to use digoxin. The entire context is to explain the use of digoxin, and, more to the point, why she is certain that no abortion practitioner is going to change whether or when he or she uses digoxin at anybody's behest.
Just to reinforce what I'm saying, Dr. N goes on to explain, "There are other people that say, 'If you induce demise, then it doesn't matter.You're never gonna do it [deliver a live baby] so you don't have to worry about intent." There are others, she explains, who use digoxin because it makes doing the abortion easier, and she's one of them. (This would be a good time to note that she places herself squarely in the pro-Digoxin camp and unwilling to change.) Dr. N continues that they tried to get a randomized control trial going among the affiliates, but those who did use digoxin didn't want to give it up, and those who didn't use digoxin didn't want to use it. This leads her adamantly to believe that any affiliate is going to stick with their usual digoxin use or non-use and will not change that because of a request by a fetal tissue procurement company.
From 1:43:25 - 1:44:00 Dr. N reiterates that if they need an older fetus that hasn't "been diged" (pronounced "dijed," meaning not killed with Digoxin the day before the abortion), they're going to have to work with a facility that doesn't dig. She's very firm about that. From 1:44:01 to 1:47:19 she goes on to explain the lack of adequate studies about whether or not digoxin makes abortion safer or easier. This takes Dr. N back to her point that nobody to her knowledge would change whether or not they use digoxin at the behest of a fetal tissue procurement company. Dr. N talks about a randomized control trial being started about use of misoprostal during dilation, but gets back to the issue of practitioners having their reasons why they do or don't use digoxin and that's that. If you want no-dig you can go with UCSF or PP of New York City, who all train at UCSF. Those are the only people she knows who don't use digoxin past 20 or 22 weeks.
The heavily edited video does a quick jump cut to make it seem as if Dr. Nucotela goes straight from describing how some people will turn the fetus to a breach presentation in order to get a head for procurement to a discussion of how to evade the PBA ban. But in the original video, there are over twenty minutes of conversation about other matters before, under prompting, Dr. Nucotela explains how practitioners who do not use Digoxin interpret their compliance with the PBA ban. Her use of the first person is used to explain the thought process of people who do not use digoxin. She is not one of the people who does not use digoxin. She makes this abundantly clear. And, as again she makes it abundantly clear, she would not give up her use of digoxin for the sake of fetal tissue procurement, and does not believe that anybody who uses digoxin would do so.
The unedited video presents no evidence whatsoever that Dr. Nucotela performs partial-birth abortions, or that that she knows anybody who does so. She does not even know of anybody who she believes would change any substantial part of their abortion technique in order to obtain fetal tissue.
I owe an apology to my readers, but even more so I owe an apology to Dr. Nucotela for wanting so badly to believe the worst of her that I failed to adequately fact check before writing a post. After viewing the full video, I found myself liking and respecting Dr. Nucatola, despite our profoundly divergent views on abortion and fetal tissue research. As repugnant as I find abortion to be, as morally unacceptable as I find fetal tissue research to be, I see nothing but laudable motives in this woman. Frankly, I think I would very much like to have her as a friend.