The nonprofit Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PFFA, PP, or just Planned Parenthood) is the largest US provider of reproductive health services, including breast cancer, STDs, counseling, contraception and abortions. Recently, PP's service of providing fetal tissue for scientific research has become highly controversial.
Since the 1930's, fetal tissue has been used for vital research. Vaccines for polio, chicken pox, rubella, and shingles (among many others) would not have been possible without it. Fetal neuronal cells are used to study Parkinson's and Huntington's. The list goes on.
In July, anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress released secretly recorded videos of PP officials discussing providing researchers with fetal tissue. The group accuses PP of illegally selling the tissue, citing the official's statement that it may cost "$30 to $100 per specimen."
Outcry over the videos was immediate and intense, feeding into a much larger protest against PP as an abortion provider. Congress, in response, held a vote to remove PP's federal funding (which, by law, already cannot be used for abortions) but it failed in the Senate.
So, what is legal here and what is not?
It is legal for a woman to donate fetal tissue after having an abortion (National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993). It is illegal for a woman or organization to profit from that donation. However, the law does allow for "reasonable payments" to cover an organization's costs to transport, preserve, (etc) the tissue.
According to the full videos later released, Planned Parenthood does not profit from fetal tissue donations; the money represents this "reasonable payment" to cover the donations' expense. A Republican-led congressional committee is investigating further.
Why is this important?
The controversy relates to several larger themes: the fervent national debate over abortion, knee-jerk federal legislation (though here prevented), and media misrepresentation for political gain. It prompts important questions about morality in scientific research, federal funding, and journalism.