In the wake of last week’s videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood discussing the “sale” of “baby parts,” Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has stepped up in defense of the beleaguered organization. Ms. Clinton pointed out that  “Planned Parenthood for more than a century has done a lot of really good work for women: cancer screenings, family planning, all kinds of health services.” In fact, although frequently depicted as an abortion services provider operating with taxpayer funds, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) primarily offers contraception, breast cancer screenings, sex education and treatments for sexually-transmitted diseases. Only about 3% of patients undergo abortions at the organization’s clinics.

Ms. Clinton described the videos as a “smear campaign,” stating that they are “really an attack on a woman’s right to choose.” Nonetheless, she told a reporter at New Hampshire Union Leader that she has seen the video clips and finds them “disturbing.”  She says, “Planned Parenthood is answering questions and will continue to answer questions.” Currently, GOP members of Congress have launched two investigations into the matter, while Republican Presidential candidates are calling for an end all federal funding for the PPFA. Ms. Clinton did not indicate whether or not she supports the idea of investigations, but said:

[the issue] raises not questions about Planned Parenthood so much as it raises questions about the whole process, that is, not just involving Planned Parenthood, but many institutions in our country…if there’s going to be any kind of congressional inquiry, it should look at everything and not just one part of it.

The “one part” of the issue is the sale and transfer of fetal tissues to medical research facilities. This practice is common among all abortion clinics and health care facilities. Such transactions are completely legal under Federal statutes – provided the women give consent and these tissue samples are not sold at a profit. Fetal tissue samples play an important role in the research of diseases such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and disorders of the eye. Once the tissue samples leave a clinic, they are delivered to a processing company that prepares the samples for the lab. Those companies may charge whatever they like for their services; arguably, the process is complex, requiring highly skilled technicians and the use of very expensive equipment.

Cecile Richards, President of the PPFA, states categorically that no laws were violated. Like Hillary Clinton, she says the selectively-edited video clips are part of a “smear campaign” – and just the latest attack in a decades-long battle to have the organization defunded and eliminated.

The videos were produced by the “Center for Medical Progress” (CMP), an anti-abortion group founded in 2013. It is funded by the “pro-life Christian” organization Operation Rescue, a group that has been responsible for intimidation tactics at abortion clinics across the country and known for its political support of “pro-life” lawmakers and candidates.

In some states, GOP lawmakers are rushing to pass bills outlawing the sale and transfer of fetal tissues altogether, while the CMP says they have several more videos in their queue. In the meantime, a Los Angeles judge has issued a restraining order, pending a hearing scheduled for August 19th.  The restraining order, temporarily preventing the CMP from releasing any more videos, was requested by StemExpress, a company that processes tissues for research laboratories.

GOP members of Congress are also taking advantage of the issue in order to move forward with their efforts to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. They hope to pass a bill before lawmakers leave for recess later this summer.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.