Governor Doug Ducey announced in a public statement this week that he is directing “the [Arizona] Department of Health Services to conduct a thorough review of [state] law and immediately promulgate emergency rules designed to prohibit the illegal sale of any tissue from an unborn child.”
A spokesman for the Governor's Office, Daniel Scarpinato, tells New Times that his office currently is drafting legislation to add extra provisions to paperwork that abortion providers must fill out after performing a procedure.
"It currently has questions about how old the fetus was, what gender...and [we want to add questions asking] what was done with the fetus after the abortion and whether there was any financial transaction," he says.
It's not clear exactly what the governor's investigation will be looking into since “Planned Parenthood of Arizona, and anyone affiliated with Planned Parenthood [here], does not do fetal tissue donation,” explains Elizabeth Toledo, speaking on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona.
(Bryan Howard, President of Planned Parenthood Arizona has previously stated that “Planned Parenthood of Arizona does not have a fetal tissue donation program.)
When asked why the Governor is investigating and changing the law if this doesn't happen here, Scarpinato says that if this is the case, then providers "should have nothing to worry about." He adds that the new provisions are still important because they provide "accountability to make sure providers are following the law, and enable us to enforce it."
Arizona is now part of a growing list of states currently addressing fetal tissue donations after a fabricated for-profit company, The Center for Medical Progress, released a controversial video on June 15. The undercover and heavily edited video shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, talking about it.
In the video, Nucatola can be heard describing the demand for fetal tissue and costs associated with extraction. Anti-abortion activists say her comments show that the non-profit organization illegally “sells” body parts for profit, and prompted some states (and Republicans from the House of Representatives) to launch full investigations.
“The footage released by the Center for Media Progress regarding the alleged sale and trafficking of aborted fetal tissue and body parts by Planned Parenthood is horrifying and has no place in a civilized society,” Ducey said.
Arizona Senator John McCain called the video "beyond disturbing" in a tweet last month.
Planned Parenthood and its advocates, however, maintain that Nucatola was only describing the legal practice of medical reimbursement for tissue donation, and say that these investigations are part of a long-standing attack on the organization.
(The Center for Medical Progress just released a second video today that it claims further proves Planned Parenthood is involved in illegal fetal tissue trafficking.)
“We support fetal tissue donation, and have never supported the sale of fetal tissue, and claims otherwise made on the basis of a deceptively edited video are simply not true,” Howard of Planned Parenthood Arizona said in a recent statement. “As with all proposed health care laws and regulations, we will review any changes proposed by the Department to ensure they do not restrict access to the sexual and reproductive health services Arizona women and families need and want."
Human tissue sales, regardless of source, is illegal in all 50 states. What is permissible though, is for places providing the tissue, places like Planned Parenthood centers or hospitals — which regularly provide harvested organs from the recently deceased for transplant or research – to be compensated by research organizations or middleman companies for the extra costs associated with safely removing and transporting intact tissue. (The Governor's office, Scarpinato confirms, will not examine postmortem organ and tissue donation practices to see if people are illegally trafficking them.)
“Everyone is focusing on the numbers [Nucatola] threw out,” Toledo says, adding that the video was erroneously edited in such a way to as make it sound like Planned Parenthood was selling tissue to the highest bidder to make a profit. But "there's always going to be a range of costs different affiliates would incur,” and that's what Nucatola's “comments reflect.”
“This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at,” Nucatola is quoted as saying in the full transcript. “This is a way to offer patients the services they want and do good for the medical community and still maintain access.” If you read the full transcript of the meeting, Toledo and others explain, Nucatola repeatedly states that there's no profit being made from tissue sales:
“I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they're a non-profit, they just don't want to – they want to break even,” Nucatola says. “and if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they're happy to do that. Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is a penny they give to another patient to provide a service the patient wouldn't get.
“The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in anyway from tissue donation is not true,” said Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a video statement. “Our donation programs – like any other high-quality health care providers – follow all laws and ethical guidelines.”
While Richards and others from Planned Parenthood have criticized Nucatola's tone in speaking so openly about tissue donation, they also emphasize that this is a totally elective process, and they commend women who chose to do it.
“Planned Parenthood stands behind our work to help women and families donate tissue for medical research when they wish to. It is always their decision. I thank those women and families who have chosen tissue donation at some point in their lives. Your commitment to lifesaving research, developing treatments for diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, is important and compassionate, and it should be respected – not attacked,” Richards said.
“We know the real agenda of organizations behind videos like this, and they have never been concerned with protecting the health and safety of women. Their mission is to ban abortion completely and cut women off from care at Planned Parenthood and other health centers.”
Editor's note: a previous version of this article stated it was unclear whether state officials will investigate postmortem tissue donations, which are subject to the same state and federal laws as tissue retrieved from a fetus. A spokesman from his office confirmed they will not be looking into the matter.
Got a tip? Email Miriam Wasser
Follow Miriam Wasser on Twitter @MiriamWasser
Follow Valley Fever on Twitter @ValleyFeverPHX
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.