Planned Parenthood announced this week that it will no longer take reimbursement for handling aborted fetal tissue that’s been donated for research. Good. Science should never have been this mixed up in abortion politics.
Fetal tissue has been invaluable to medicine, dating to the 1940s when scientists used the cadavers of fetuses aborted by women with rubella to develop a vaccine for the lethal contagion. Stem cells from donated fetal tissue have been instrumental in the modern search for a cure for spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
But only a few Planned Parenthood clinics in two states – California and Washington – facilitated such donations. And the California clinics’ acceptance of compensation for handling and storing the tissue created a needless opening for abortion foes.
The law forbids the sale of fetal tissue but does allow reimbursement for handling and storage. Those costs were nominal enough that Planned Parenthood probably could, and should, have covered them with donations.
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Planned Parenthood was right to take the tissue-donation hostage out of the equation.
Instead, the reimbursement from third-party labs enticed anti-abortion groups who generated a series of “sting” videos, posing as researchers seeking tissue samples. Planned Parenthood executives broke no laws, but spoke matter-of-factly and jarringly on the videos about the preservation of fetal organs.
That gave extremists in Congress an excuse to jeopardize one of the health group’s most important services, the dispensation of federally subsidized contraception to millions of low-income women. A government shutdown over Planned Parenthood’s funding was only narrowly averted, and several other congressional investigations into the group go on.
Planned Parenthood executives were right to take this hostage out of the equation, but now that the service is free, they should expand it. Abortion is no one’s first choice, but when it happens, women who want to donate the remains to science should be encouraged to make that contribution and scientists who want to save lives should have the chance.