By now, most people are aware of, have heard of, read about, or seen for themselves the whistleblower video in which a person identified as a Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, casually discusses the selling of body parts of unborn children (fetuses and embryos) that have been aborted. She informally chats about how much those body parts can be sold for as she sips wine and enjoys lunch.
Selling fetal organs and tissue generally is prohibited by federal law. For instance, federal law provides that: “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation if the transfer affects interstate commerce.” 42 U.S.C. § 274e. Violators of this law “shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” Id.
Moreover, as used in that statute, “[t]he term “human organ” means the human (including fetal) kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, bone marrow, cornea, eye, bone, and skin or any subpart thereof and any other human organ (or any subpart thereof, including that derived from a fetus) . . . .” In the whistleblower video the Planned Parenthood official specifically describes selling several of these fetal parts and organs.
Furthermore, Congress has specifically prohibited trafficking in human fetal tissue. Thus, 42 U.S.C. § 289g-2 provides that such trafficking in tissue from an aborted unborn child is a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a substantial fine. At first glance it seems hard to distinguish what the Planned Parenthood official admits to doing and what this federal law prohibits.
Selling fetal tissue and body parts is prohibited because it can interfere with and endanger the success of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, established by Congress and federally-funded through the Public Health Service for the purpose helping to coordinate, facilitate and improve the legitimate procurement and distribution of human organs for use by transplant patients. Fetal tissue trafficking also can discredit and undermine public confidence in legitimate medical transplantation procedures and transfers. It additionally can put vulnerable pregnant women under economic pressures that could push some of them to agree to an act that may haunt them for many years thereafter.
Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortion services in the United States. According to “Planned Parenthood at a Glance,” on Planned Parenthood’s website, Planned Parenthood operates approximately 700 health centers throughout the United States, and three percent (3%) of activities are abortion services. Id.
Planned Parenthood clinics perform a lot of abortions. For example, two years ago LifeNews.com reported that: “In 2011, the last year for which the data is available, Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 abortions, or just over 27% of all abortions performed in the United States.” Steven Ertelt, Poll: 55% of Americans Don’t Know Planned Parenthood Does Abortions, LifeNews.com, April 29, 2013.
Of course, things are not always as they appear in “sting” videos. The sale of the fetal body parts and tissue by Planned Parenthood may come within one of the exceptions to the general prohibition. For example, they may not be acting for profit or they may pay for processing, preservation, or storage of human fetal tissue. But the taint of sleaziness remains.
Yet certainly when an official of such a massive abortion provider as Planned Parenthood is seen and heard apparently admitting that the organization sells fetal tissue and body parts, it would seem to warrant an investigation by federal law enforcement officials such as officers of the Department of Justice. Indeed, House Speaker John Boehner “called for an investigation into Planned Parenthood … after an anti-abortion group released an undercover video that claims to show that the family planning provider sells fetal body parts.” Laura Bassett, Congress Launches Planned Parenthood Investigation After Sting Video, Huffington Post, July 15, 2015.
If the branch of government that enacts laws thinks there is something to investigate the allegations, one would think that the Executive Branch’s Justice Department would be at least as active in pursuit of the investigation of the possible illegality. But the Department of Justice seems to have changed under the Obama administration from an agency committed to non-political enforcement of federal law into a Department of Political Retaliation.
Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry are allies of the Obama administration, and the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration is now acting like a legal arm of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.
Thus, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has announced that the Department of Justice will investigate NOT the possible illegal trafficking by Planned Parenthood but, rather, it will investigate the group that made the video that has embarrassed Planned Parenthood. Obama DOJ Plans To Investigate ... The Group That Busted Planned Parenthood, The Federalist, July 23, 2015.
“In response to a request by House Democrats, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday afternoon that Justice would ‘review all of the information and determine what the appropriate steps moving forward would be.’ Planned Parenthood has staunchly defended its practices and claims that the Center for Medical Progress illegally obtained its footage, then excessively edited it to misrepresent what the organization does.
— Center Executive Director David Daleiden isn't [fazed]. ‘They will attack me and my organization all day long, but that does not change the facts about what our investigation has uncovered and what the American people now know — that Planned Parenthood is engaged in an enterprise-wide operation that traffics and sells baby body parts,’ he said in a statement.”
Politico Pulse, IPAB’s on the horizon – House Republicans vow to subpoena Planned Parenthood official – Casey takes on foster children’s health insurance, July 23, 2015.
For persons who cherish the rule of law this is a huge disappointment. For persons who want to believe in the integrity of the Department of Justice, despite the changing administrations and the political whirlwinds that swirl constantly in Washington, this is of grave concern.
We know that the Attorney General is part of the President’s cabinet and is a high-level political appointee. But over the years, the career attorneys in the Department of Justice have worked to maintain its political independence regardless of the partisan politics and despite political pressures from the top.
One may forgive Attorney General Lynch for popping off politically in response to political pressures from liberals in Congress to give them some counterpoint to the embarrassing videos. But to use the investigative resources of the Department of Justice to engage in a witch hunt to find something to embarrass the persons and organization that caught Planned Parenthood in an embarrassing sting video is not merely beneath the expected integrity and dignity of the Department of Justice. It sets a precedent that will only devolve into a downward spiral of the DOJ and will diminish the trust that the American people have in it. The DOJ should not be for sale to Planned Parenthood or any other political allies of any administration of either party.
Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University. He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.