By Sarah Ferris - 10/13/15 10:20 AM EDT
Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday that it will no longer accept any reimbursement as part of its fetal tissue donation program, taking its strongest step yet to end the onslaught of conservative attacks against the group.
The group’s president Cecile Richards disclosed the policy change in a letter to the National Institutes of Health, which she said was intended to “take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda.”
“This new policy removes beyond the shadow of a doubt the ludicrous idea that Planned Parenthood has any financial interest in tissue donation — and shows the real agenda behind these attacks,” Richards wrote in a statement.
Abortion providers are legally allowed to accept payments to cover the costs of procuring fetal tissue for medical researchers, which a handful of Planned Parenthood clinics have done. The organization has accepted “modest reimbursement” of $60 per tissue specimen, according to Richards’ letter to congressional leaders in August.
The organization maintains that accepting compensation is “fully legal, appropriate, and common among health care providers,” but as one of the nation’s largest charities, it will now cover its own costs of donating the fetal tissue.
The change affects only one Planned Parenthood affiliate that currently accepts compensation for donating fetal tissue to medical research.
Still, it is a significant concession to the anti-abortion group that has released the videos, the Center for Medical Progress.
The issue of compensation has been the biggest legal question raised in the 10 hidden-camera videos targeting Planned Parenthood this summer. In one video, a Planned Parenthood employee is heard joking, “I want a Lamborghini,” when negotiating prices.
In her letter Tuesday, Richards reiterated her defense of Planned Parenthood and dismissed all allegations as “categorically false.” The organization has repeatedly claimed that the videos were deceptively edited.
Already, the videos from the Center for Medical Progress have prompted investigations by four congressional committees. The House also voted last week to create a special investigative panel that will have its own committee staff and budget to deepen its probe.
That panel does not yet have members, and a spokeswoman for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE, who will have say in deciding its makeup, did not respond to requests for comment.
Planned Parenthood’s already-small fetal tissue program has shrunk dramatically in the several months since it was first targeted by an anti-abortion campaign. In July, six Planned Parenthood clinics allowed women to donate aborted fetus tissue for medical research. Now, there are just two that do.
This story was updated at 11:48 a.m.