For years, a group of pro-life activists and politicians have waged a fierce political and brand war with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a billion-dollar nonprofit that has positioned itself as a champion for women’s health.
Pro-life groups and other critics called the abortion giant—Planned Parenthood terminates more than 300,000 pregnancies per year—a rogue organization that misuses about $500 million a year in government funds to underwrite its lucrative abortion business.
After a string of victories from 2011, the movement to defund Planned Parenthood largely stalled out. A month ago, the movement was dead in the water.
A series of undercover videos, showing Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the price for donated fetal tissue and organs over lunch and during a dissection, have the abortion giant on the defensive.
The videos, which claim Planned Parenthood profits from selling fetal tissue, caused public outrage and launched nationwide rallies. As many as seven states, including Texas, have planned hearings or investigations into Planned Parenthood’s tissue donation program. Pro-life members of the US Senate introduced a bill to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
All of which is what David Daleiden wanted.
Daleiden, 26, is executive director of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the pro-life nonprofit that produced the videos. He’s a former director of research for Live Action, a pro-life group that specializes in undercover abortion clinic videos. Daleiden told CT he started CMP to focus on more long-term, in-depth projects.
For years, he told CT, Planned Parenthood has donated thousands of fetal remains to biotech middlemen, who resell them to researchers.
Federal law allows Planned Parenthood to be reimbursed for the reasonable expense of obtaining donated fetal tissue. But Daleiden believes Planned Parenthood profits from these sales.
Armed with hidden video cameras and a $120,000 budget, he and other activists spent two-and-a-half to three years developing evidence to prove that. They have released three videos so far and hope to eventually release a dozen, including a new video about Planned Parenthood that debuted July 30.
A California court issued a restraining order on July 29, barring the release of any video showing leaders of StemExpress, a tissue procurement company. StemExpress lawyers claim CMP’s recordings were illegal.
Daleiden spoke recently with CT senior news editor Bob Smietana.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for clarity.
When did you first learn about the business of fetal tissue donations?
It first came across my radar in 2009, when I was attending a stem cell conference at UCLA. It struck me as very bizarre, something that couldn’t be real or something that was very uncommon.
Then I revisited the issue in 2010 and began to realize that this is not something unusual or far out in left field. The sale and commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue is very common and it happens every single day at large, high-volume Planned Parenthood clinics around the country.
You aren’t the first person to raise questions about alleged profits being made off of fetal tissue. Back in 2000, there were high-profile reports and a congressional hearing on fetal tissue donations. Did those earlier reports influence your work?
That was something that surprised me—that no one had looked into this issue for 15 years at this point. The last time this issue was in the public discourse was back in 2000, all because of the very seminal investigation and exposé done by Mark Crutcher (of the pro-life group Life Dynamics). I wanted to do something that would go beyond the work Mark had done. In Mark’s report, there was not a lot of focus on the supplier—on the people who were actually terminating the fetuses and using the abortions to get high quality body parts. That wasn’t really covered in 2000.
I wanted to explore and focus in on that. And so that is what we did for the past two-and-a-half years.
How did you get people to talk to you? There have been other undercover videos about Planned Parenthood in the past, so you would think they’d be more skeptical.
It’s reasonable to think they would be skeptical. We were quite surprised, during the course of this project, how trusting and how willing to talk and negotiate and let us into the inner circle Planned Parenthood was.
All we had to do was say two things. Number one, that we supported their work. And number two, that we wanted to buy their fetal body parts. Those were the magic words. And they were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate that.
Why the undercover video? Why not pursue legislative action against Planned Parenthood?
I think that there is legislative action happening right now—but it’s because of the undercover videos. If you didn’t show them the video, most people would not believe this stuff was going on. I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
There are some critics, who share your beliefs about abortion, who are uncomfortable with the techniques you use. They say misrepresenting who you are and using undercover video is unethical. How do you respond to that claim? And what are the laws about undercover recording in states like California, where you recorded video?
California has a recording law that prohibits the surreptitious recording of what are called “confidential communications,” so California’s recording statute is limited.
I think that there are a minority of people who think that any kind of undercover work is prima facie wrong and unethical. I certainly don’t subscribe to that view. Most people don’t subscribe to that view. Undercover work is a pretty common tactic among law enforcement and journalists. I don’t think the techniques that we use are any more extreme than what is done every day by mainstream investigative journalists.
People don’t realize that it’s a common law liberty in the United States to change your name at will. I think it’s a little silly to say that it’s unethical when it is a common law liberty to present yourself however you want to present yourself.
Planned Parenthood and a number of legal and medical ethics experts say their fetal tissue donation program is legal. Why do you believe it is not?
Planned Parenthood’s understanding of that law is very clear. It is not legal in any way for people to be profiting from the sale of aborted baby parts. But that is exactly what Planned Parenthood does. And you can see it in our video evidence that we have released so far.
They set their price per specimen—which is per aborted baby or baby part. The amount of money they received for those body parts far exceeds any real or imagined costs they have in supplying them.
Planned Parenthood doesn’t do shipping or packaging—all of that is handled by the middleman biotech companies that they sell to. And those groups sent all of their own people in to handle all the processing of the specimens.
So Planned Parent does nothing, yet they still are receiving $50, $75, or $100 per specimen. So they are clearly selling fetal tissue for valuable consideration and for a profit—and that is very clearly against the law.
What are your personal beliefs and how do they inform the work you do?
I am Catholic, and I am a really big fan of Pope Francis. He has been a huge inspiration to me over the past couple of years, especially while doing this project.
Pope Francis’s emphasis on not being closed in on yourself but always moving forward and always being willing to go out towards the margins of human experience—in order to bring the gospel to those margins—was a huge inspiration to me during this project. I don’t think there’s any place more on the existential margins of society than an abortion clinic.
I think that when you have a place like an abortion clinic—which is a place where children are killed on an industrial scale—there is almost a sacramental value in bringing a presence to those places. We were there for good, out of love, and to welcome those children for the brief time that they will be in existence before they die. And to be in contact with and pray for all the abortion workers, the abortion doctors who are there.
As a Christian you are part of the body of Christ. So your presence, even in those darkest of places, can bring the presence of Jesus.
There are claims that the mainstream media is not giving enough coverage to your work. What do you think?
I am really not complaining about the media coverage. I think that the public is responding to these videos and the media is responding to them as well. The only critique I would have is that the mainstream media is maybe a little too trusting of the Planned Parenthood talking points.
I think people are asking the right questions. They just need to ask more questions of Planned Parenthood.