The top Planned Parenthood doctor whose face is all over the Internet because of an undercover video otherwise has left little mark on social media or elsewhere on the Web.
More than one congressional committee wants to hear from Dr. Deborah L. Nucatola, among others, but a lawyer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America says the organization needs more time to prepare to brief congressional staff.
“I was attracted to the very hands-on, surgical specialties.”—@PPFA’s Deborah Nucatola, 2012
The House Energy and Commerce Committee “asks for the briefing no later than July 31, which is short notice given the number of questions raised,” senior counsel Roger K. Evans wrote Monday to Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
In his four-page response to Upton that focuses on questioning the motives and tactics of the pro-life group behind the undercover video, Evans adds:
Your letter asks that Dr. Nucatola attend the staff briefing. We are still assessing this aspect of your request. When the video was released last week, there were assertions by leading politicians that her remarks were evidence of illegal, and possibly criminal, activity. … [I]n light of these allegations, we are understandably in the process of retaining counsel to advise us on the best way to proceed. We hope, though, that this letter helps answer your questions and explains why the video was a gross distortion of Dr. Nucatola’s comments.
So who is Deborah Nucatola?
LinkedIn continues to carry a profile and resume for the top Planned Parenthood doctor, who, as The Daily Signal reported July 14, is seen in the video talking about the sale and transfer by Planned Parenthood affiliates of body parts from aborted babies.
In an initial written statement, the national Planned Parenthood office said the secretly recorded video “falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research.”
On July 16, however, Planned Parenthood said Nucatola had been “reprimanded” but did not elaborate, the Associated Press reported.
The organization also released a video statement by its president, Cecile Richards, in which she says “compassionate care” is the organization’s top priority. Without using Nucatola’s name, Richards calls the top official “a staff member” and apologizes that she “speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion.”
“This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements,” Richards says.
‘Up to Interpretation’
Nucatola, about 43, is based in Los Angeles as Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services. She is listed on one pro-life website as a doctor who performs abortions in both Los Angeles and New York. Another online medical directory lists her as an obstetrician/gynecologist or OB-GYN.
She sits on the four-member governing board of Sexual Health Innovations, which describes its mission as “creating technology that advances sexual health and wellbeing in the United States.” CEO Jessica Ladd founded the venture in 2011 after a stint as a domestic policy intern in the Obama White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy.
The Daily Signal requested an interview with Nucatola through both the national and Los Angeles offices of Planned Parenthood. They did not return emails or phone calls.
For the undercover video, a new pro-life organization, Center for Medical Progress, used actors posing as biotech executives who met last year with Nucatola over a meal and drinks to discuss how to obtain fetal body parts.
The group released edited and raw video along with a 60-page transcript. A week later, it put out a second undercover video showing another Planned Parenthood executive in a restaurant haggling over the price of body parts from aborted babies.
At one point in the first video, Nucatola speaks of turning unborn babies to deliver them feet first so heads and brains would emerge mostly undamaged. Her description suggests a procedure called partial-birth abortion, which is prohibited by federal law. Nucatola says:
The federal [partial-birth] abortion ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation. If I say on day one I do not intend to do this, what ultimately happens doesn’t matter.
Writing for the Catholic media outlet AveMariaRadio.net, veteran Oklahoma lawmaker and former pro-choice activist Rebecca Hamilton identifies the section of the law that Nucatola appears to think is open to interpretation.
Hamilton reasons that the Planned Parenthood official is talking about the exceptions for life of the mother and the requirement that the provider be “knowingly” or “deliberately and intentionally” performing a partial-birth abortion.
— centerformedprogress (@CtrMedProgress) July 16, 2015
Advising the Obama Administration
Conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate seized on the video to put Planned Parenthood, which performs about 320,000 abortions a year, back under the microscope for possible defunding. The organization receives $528 million annually from American taxpayers—a total that is supposed to go to non-abortion services.
The Republican governors of Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas ordered investigations of Planned Parenthood affiliates in their states, as did Ohio’s attorney general.
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A search by The Daily Signal revealed that Nucatola was a member of two advisory panels that contributed to an Obama administration report last year on “quality family planning services,” released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Office of Population Affairs.
Identified as an “MD” with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the abortion doctor and Planned Parenthood executive was part of both an “expert working group” and a “technical panel on women’s clinical services.”
In addition to that work, Mary Hasson reported Tuesday in The Federalist, Nucatola was a consultant on several other CDC initiatives. She was a “liaison participant” in the work group that helped shape the 2015 “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines” released June 5.
Nucatola also consulted in 2011 on revisions to federal recommendations for use of contraceptives, released in 2013, Hasson noted. The Planned Parenthood official was an ad hoc reviewer for CDC’s 2012 updated guidelines on contraception for HIV-infected women as well as for the agency’s 2011 updated guidelines on contraception for postpartum women.
‘Entirely Different Direction’
Nucatola apparently deleted a little-used Twitter account shortly after the story broke July 14. Her Facebook account isn’t public.
“I am happy to share that I have been senior director of medical services at @PPFA since 2009.”—Deborah Nucatola
A brief biography on the Sexual Health Innovations site says she “has been active in family planning research since 2002 and has authored two textbook chapters and numerous journal articles.” It adds:
Dr. Nucatola continues to provide clinical care in both New York and Los Angeles and enjoys educating medical students, residents, fellows, physicians and advanced practice clinicians. She has stayed active in research as associate medical director for research at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and with the research division of the California Family Health Council.
For a short alumni update in 2012 on a Web page affiliated with her alma mater, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nucatola writes:
After completing my BS in kinesiology [in 1994] at UW-Madison, I decided to go to medical school and planned to pursue orthopedic surgery. It was clear to me in medical school that I was attracted to the very hands-on, surgical specialties. But, by the end of my third year I was leaning in an entirely different direction.
Following medical school at State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center in 1998, she added, she did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology and then a fellowship in family planning clinical care and research at the University of Southern California.
“I am happy to share that I have been senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 2009,” she writes. “I also continue to see patients.”
Since September 2008, Nucatola also has held the title of associate medical director at the Los Angeles chapter of Planned Parenthood.
Before that, she was medical director for the organization’s Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo affiliate for nearly three years, from 2005 through 2007.
A Pro-Life Convert’s Plea
Last week, a former Planned Parenthood manager turned pro-life activist wrote an open letter to Nucatola.
“Dear Dr. Nucatola: … I want you to know that I’m not disgusted by you,” Abby Johnson writes. “I’m not disgusted, because I used to be just like you. You see, my former Planned Parenthood clinic used to harvest fetal body parts. I used to sift through … bodies and prepare them for transport to the research lab we were contracted with.”
Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, adds:
I understand the world you live in. I understand the blindness. I don’t think you are an evil person. I wasn’t an evil person. But just like I was, you are gravely misguided. I want you to know that I care about you. I have seen the things being said about you. I have seen the hate and vile comments about you. Seeing those things being said about you is honestly heartbreaking for me. … I understand how hurtful people can be.
We believe that your life holds infinite value and worth. You matter to us. As hard as I fight to save unborn babies, I fight just as hard to save people like you from the grips of the abortion industry.
The remainder of Nucatola’s digital footprint for the most part consists of a few commentaries and a list of 13 research papers she co-authored on abortion and contraception over the past 12 years. Typical of them is a March 2014 paper on “reductions of infection-related mortality since modifications in the regimen of medical abortion.”
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Her name surfaced briefly during the 2012 presidential campaign.
In October 2012, FactCheck.org used a statement from Nucatola to assess President Obama’s assertion that women “rely on” Planned Parenthood for mammograms, something he said during a debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The fact-checking operation said Nucatola clarified that her organization doesn’t actually provide mammograms at its clinics. “Women rely on Planned Parenthood for referrals for and financial help with mammograms,” she wrote.
In her most recent online commentary, Nucatola co-wrote an op-ed for Roll Call in May arguing that Obamacare should cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including the disputed abortion drugs and devices, regardless of employers’ religious objections:
Offering women the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods is an essential part of health care, and we are grateful that this provision was included in the ACA [Affordable Care Act]. Now, the Obama administration should take immediate steps to ensure that the law is enforced so all women get the health care they need and deserve.
A Hill blog post in April 2011 is a defense of Planned Parenthood’s “medical standards and guidelines,” in which Nucatola writes:
As a medical professional, I know the importance of financial stability to ensuring high-quality health care, and that is why we insist that each health center has the resources it needs to provide quality care.
Opponents of legal abortion use a plethora of false allegations and dubious tactics to question Planned Parenthood’s policies and practices. The fact is that our high standards rival those of any top-tier national health care organization, and patient health and safety is always our top concern. …
It is this special relationship with so many women that has allowed Planned Parenthood to do more than any other organization in the United States to help lower the rate of unintended pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion. That is the Planned Parenthood I know.
— Planned Parenthood (@PPact) July 21, 2015
‘Someone Who Talks to Parents’
In April 2013, Nucatola’s post for CNN celebrates a federal judge’s decision allowing teenage girls to purchase the Plan B “morning after” pill, which supporters call an emergency contraceptive and some opponents regard as an abortion drug.
In the piece, she argues that easy availability would “reduce the need for abortion” and dismisses fears that it would encourage more teens to have sexual relations:
Another concern among some is that access to emergency contraception will increase the rates of unprotected sex, especially among teens. There is no evidence to support this.
It’s a fact that rates of unprotected sex do not increase when there is more access to emergency contraception. Research also indicates that teens understand how to use emergency contraception and that it is not intended for ongoing, regular use.
In a May 2013 commentary for U.S. News backing the drug’s expanded availability for those 15 and older, Nucatola specifically mentions she is a medical doctor “who talks to parents every day about health care.”
“As a doctor, I know that this is good news and a great first step,” she writes, concluding:
So despite some of the myths out there, emergency contraception is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy for all women, regardless of age (though, as someone who talks to parents everyday [sic] about health care, I also know it’s crucial that parents have conversations with their children about these issues).
The good news is that this week’s decision [by the FDA] makes it a whole lot easier for women to get access to emergency contraception. More should be done to remove all barriers and unnecessary hurdles. While the teen birth rates have declined significantly in the last two decades, they are still high, including in states that lack access to medical providers and preventive health care.
That’s why, as a doctor, I know it makes good scientific and medical sense to expand access to emergency contraception to all women.
Her commentary was one of four “pro” voices in U.S. News’ Debate Club feature, which included opposing views from the Family Research Council, Charlotte Lozier Institute, the American Family Association, and the Traditional Values Coalition.