Did Planned Parenthood Violate Its Charter?

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A recently released video that appears to show a top medical official at Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of organs from aborted babies has reignited the debate surrounding perhaps the most contentious social issue in American history.

Conservatives are largely up in arms at what at first appearance can only be described as horrifying, while the left-leaning media have immediately dismissed the video as either edited or business as usual.

If in fact Planned Parenthood is selling the body parts of aborted fetuses and earning any sort of profit they are in strict violation of federal law. Two, in fact: it’s illegal to both sell human fetal tissue and time an abortion for the purpose of harvesting tissue.

On the other hand, if the nation’s leading abortion provider is, as they claim, simply donating the tissue for research with the patient’s consent and using any money to cover the expenses for the transport of said tissue, then they may be well within in their rights. Tissue donation is legal in the United States with donor consent.

But there is another, more bureaucratic issue at hand that seems to have slipped under the radar.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, an affiliate of the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), is a 501(c)(3), just like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. This special designation means that the organization is largely, if not totally, tax exempt. But it also pigeonholes exactly what type of activities the organization can engage in as outlined by its charter, or “articles of incorporation.”

Per the IRS:

  • “. . . A 501(c)(3) organization must be organized as a corporation, trust or  unincorporated association. An organization’s organizing documents (articles of  incorporation, trust documents, articles of association) must:

  • limit its purposes to those described in section 501(c)(3) of the IRC;

  • not expressly permit activities that do not further its exempt purpose(s), i.e., unrelated activities; and,

  • permanently dedicate its assets to exempt purposes.”

 A quick review of the IPPF’s charter, however, reveals nothing in the way of buying or selling any types of organs or tissues. Nothing. Nary a mention.

Disclaimer: After hours of searching and multiple requests to Planned Parenthood, I was unable to locate a draft of the American affiliate’s charter. I would assume since it’s tax exempt and receives taxpayer funding that the charter would be easily located. For this reason I can only assume they are abiding by the international charter. Again, I am not a lawyer.

In fact, a section titled “The Right to the Benefits of Scientific Progress,” the only plausible title under which such shenanigans could possibly fall, mentions scientific research but only in the context of strengthening “reproductive health services.”

If tissue is being sold for this purpose then all seems well, or at least legally acceptable. However, if the international charter reflects that of the U.S. affiliate and the tissue being sold is going towards research outside of the reproductive health arena then that would almost certainly violate the organization’s charter. And, by extension, its tax-exempt status.

Of course proving these types of violations is next to impossible, and Planned Parenthood no doubt has a gnarly team of lawyers skilled at combating this very thing. The legal landscape in this regard is beyond murky; there are, however, some guidelines as to what could and should happen were Planned Parenthood found to be in violation of its charter.

According to CharityLawyerBlog.com,

            “. . . if a nonprofit enters into a contract that is outside the scope of its permissible activities, the     contract could be voided. While there may be other arguments that could be raised to enforce an ultra vires contract, acting ‘ultra vires’ puts the nonprofit at risk as well as those that are entering into transactions with it.”

Beyond that, an organization’s director may be liable.

Wishful thinking, I know, particularly given the recent targeting of conservative 501(c)(4)’s by the IRS. But one would hope that when it came to selling the organs of discarded fetuses the federal government might have reason to knock on a door or two. After all, as responsible citizens we all just want a level playing field, even if “level” means dead babies versus a few votes come election time.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood probably isn’t the first non-profit to abandon the principles of its charter. But given this latest turn of events, they are definitely near the top. It’s time for the federal government to examine the tax-exempt status of this abortion factory as it has other, less visible and less active, organizations.

And while that may be naïve, so was thinking that not even Planned Parenthood would sell the organs of aborted fetuses.

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