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Pennsylvania has no role in Planned Parenthood tissue uproar

| Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, 10:51 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania Kimberlee Evert talks about the mission and challenges facing her organization during an interview Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015.

Planned Parenthood sites in Pennsylvania do not donate, buy or sell fetal tissue, a review by the state Department of Health found.

The review of sites that perform abortions was initiated by Gov. Tom Wolf's office in conjunction with Secretary of Health Karen Murphy in response to an anti-abortion group's release of videos insinuating that Planned Parenthood officials in undisclosed locations negotiated prices for aborted fetal tissue.

“Although donation of fetal tissue is lawful under the Abortion Control Act and federal law, our review has found that Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania do not participate in this practice,” Murphy wrote in a letter obtained by the Tribune-Review. “Moreover, there is no evidence that any Planned Parenthood site in this commonwealth is involved in the buying or selling of fetal tissue.”

Planned Parenthood has been under a political microscope — at least more than usual — since anti-abortion activists released the initial video in July.

In Pittsburgh, Kimberlee Evert, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said she is pleased with Murphy's findings but braced for continual attacks on the agency. On Saturday, nearly 300 public protests of Planned Parenthood offices are scheduled nationwide.

“There has been opposition to Planned Parenthood really since the beginning,” said Evert, who has held her position for 30 years. “Recently, we've seen an increased focus on Planned Parenthood, in general, as an abortion provider.”

Three percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides in Pennsylvania are abortion-related, officials said. The remaining 97 percent are preventative and include contraception, pregnancy tests, breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.

Planned Parenthood sites in Pennsylvania contract with vendors to “properly dispose of tissue” from abortions, Murphy wrote in her review.

Carol Tracy, director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia, has a theory of why Planned Parenthood can't escape the negative onslaught.

“The conservative right wing lost on the gay marriage issue and now all their vitriol is directed at Planned Parenthood,” she said. “This will be with us for a while, certainly through the 2016 election.”

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump recently backed off an initial promise to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, saying “I'm sure they do some things properly and good, and good for women.”

A poll released by Reuters this week indicates Americans overwhelmingly support federal funding for free women's health exams, screenings and contraception services.

“Many of these politicians are out of sync with what the American public wants,” Evert said in response to the poll.

Detractors contend one abortion is too many in condemning Planned Parenthood.

“The evil outweighs the good,” said Nikki Bruni, the local campaign director for 40 Days For Life, a movement in which protesters picket clinics daily for 40 days in the spring and fall. “There are plenty of medical organizations that provide a wide range of medical services without performing abortions. We don't need Planned Parenthood to provide any of those medical services.”

Helen Cindrich, executive director for Pittsburgh's People Concerned for the Unborn Child, said she'll rail against Planned Parenthood until it is closed down for good.

“I'll be happy when women who need health care are getting it from an agency that really cares for women and isn't profiteering on the misery they are causing,” she said.

Pennsylvania isn't immune from abortion-related scandal.

The number of Pennsylvania abortion clinics has dropped from 24 to 19 since a 2011 law passed in response to the discovery of Dr. Kermit Gosnell's “house of horrors” Philadelphia abortion clinic, state Department of Health records show.

A grand jury report released in 2011 described filthy operating rooms, fetal body parts stored in glass jars and other grisly conditions in Gosnell's Women's Medical Society in Philadelphia. In 2013, a jury convicted him of killing three babies who were born alive. Gosnell was not affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Legislation resulting from Gosnell's crimes requires clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers, including monthly safety inspections and registered nurses on staff.

“We've had a very difficult four years,” Evert said, explaining that some of the legislation made it more expensive for clinics to operate.

Evert can handle the resistance. She walks past protesters nearly every day on her way to her Downtown office. She respects their right to protest. As a Christian, she said, the demonizing of her agency by protesters and politicians can be hurtful.

“People don't always behave ethically when talking about Planned Parenthood,” she said. “There's a lot of misinformation and lies out there and that's really frustrating. To me, we are helping people who really need help and without judgment.”

Ben Schmitt is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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