Video: Mich. abortion clinic director recorded covertly

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

A Michigan abortion provider has surfaced in a series of controversial videos covertly filmed by anti-abortion advocates that have targeted Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

This time, it’s the founder of Metro Detroit’s Northland Family Planning Centers talking about her dilemma when she anticipated her medical-waste vendor would stop accepting the remains of aborted fetuses. It prompted her to contemplate a drive to northern Michigan to get rid of them herself.

“I had five months worth of fetal tissue in freezers, and we were renting freezers to put them in. It was all I thought about,” Northland’s Executive Director Renee Chelian says in the video, which is edited into three parts.

“I was so consumed with fetal tissue, I was ready to drive to northern Michigan and have a bonfire. I was just trying to find out how I wouldn’t get stopped, or how far into the woods I would have to go to have this fire that nobody was going to see me.”

Northland Family Planning Centers, which has clinics in Westland, Southfield and Sterling Heights, did not return calls for comment Monday.

The YouTube video was recorded on April 7, 2014, according to a time stamp on the video, and features a panel discussion about the disposal of fetal remains. Chelian was a speaker on the panel, which took place during the National Abortion Federation’s annual meeting in San Francisco, according to the NAF.

The business dates to the 1970s and is a longtime member of the National Abortion Federation, CEO and President Vicki Saporta said in a statement.

“The leaked videos were illegally taken at NAF meetings, and they are currently protected by a temporary restraining order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California,” Saporta said.

Chelian talked about issues surrounding a 2012 Michigan law that set procedures for abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains through medical-waste incineration, cremation or burial.

Chelian said said that, under early drafts of the legislation, she anticipated difficulty in compliance in part because crematoriums and funeral homes told her they’d refuse to accept the remains, fearing that they’d become the target of anti-abortion protests or harassment.

The videos reportedly originated with anti-abortion activist David Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, and were posted online by Daleiden’s videos were partially released earlier this year, but the federal judge prohibited the release of footage that is the subject of a National Abortion Federation lawsuit.

The judge recently ruled the footage could be released to the U.S. House Oversight Committee, which sought access to the videos under a subpoena.

“Although the blogger claims to have received the videos from Congress, we are not certain that this is the case,” Saporta said. “We are following up with the court and Congress to get to the bottom of the matter.”

The 2012 Michigan law was created in response to an abortion protester discovering 17 fetuses in biohazard bags in a Dumpster outside a Lansing-area abortion clinic in February 2010. An investigation by prosecutors later determined the disposal of the fetuses was in technical compliance with state law.

“That’s really what drove the legislation,” said Ed Rivet, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan.

“I was surprised that she was, amongst her colleagues, talking about how this requirement almost took them down,” Rivet said of Chelian.

“I had no idea that would even conceivably be the case that they would have such a difficulty with what would otherwise be fairly standard medical disposal practices.”

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