With the new Republican-controlled House, and more anti-abortion legislators in states across the country, Planned Parenthood is coming under increasing attacks from the right. These attacks need to be vigorously countered. However, stories of Planned Parenthood "malfeasance" documented by surreptitious videos taped by phony clients have made the organization even more of a target.
Two weeks ago, Lila Rose, the head of Live Action, the group that has recently released several surreptitiously taped videos of alleged sex traffickers soliciting abortions for young girls at Planned Parenthood clinics, released an audiotape from a visit to Planned Parenthood's Washington, DC, office, located in the heart of the nation's capital.
In the tape, a woman comes into the office and asks to make appointments for herself and other young women, who she claims are 14 or 15 years old, "don't speak English" and are from "out of the country," and that she has "just got them in to do work." The Planned Parenthood worker advises the woman that she needs an appointment and must talk to a trained nurse. She did not promise her anything. She focused on setting up appointments and said they needed identification. When the woman asked how long the workers would have to abstain from sex, the PP worker said two to three weeks. When asked what else the girls could do during the recovery period, the staff member did not respond.
"The pattern in DC, just miles from Capitol Hill and the White House, is clear," said Rose. "Presented with information that underage girls are being exploited for commercial sex, Planned Parenthood again shows its willingness to aid and abet sex traffickers."
The Family Research Council's (FRC) Tony Perkins huffed in his Friday, February 11 edition of FRC's "Washington Update" that: "This is the sixteenth time the same organization has been caught on tape covering up child sex abuse. What other business is rewarded with 363 million taxpayer dollars when it breaks the law? When the lives of little girls are on the line, this is no longer about fiscal discipline. It's about moral responsibility."
For decades, Planned Parenthood has been the target of unremitting attacks from anti-abortion groups: offices and clinics have been picketed and clinic workers and patients have been harassed. Over the years, I've written a number of times about these incidents and the campaigns to defund Planned Parenthood, in articles including: "Planned Parenthood 'Stung' By Lila Rose," "Right-Wing Magnate Takes Up Anti-Abortion Banner" and "Anti-Abortion Movement Has New Poster Child." (Examples of incidents of harassment can be found here).
These days, attacks against Planned Parenthood are growing exponentially. Michelle Malkin's syndicated column dated February 11 was headlined "De-fund the predatory Planned Parenthood." In a recent interview on American Family Radio's "Financial Issues" program, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said that, "There are now more than 160 cosponsors - Republicans and some Democrats - who are coming together to say that no more public funding will flow into Title X clinics. I believe we're reaching a point where we can end public funding for Planned Parenthood once and for all."
Late last month, in an article that appeared in the conservative publication Human Events, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) said that defunding Planned Parenthood was one step that could be taken to fix the budget deficit. "The task immediately at hand is repealing and defunding pro-abortion 'ObamaCare,'" she wrote. "Last week the House voted 245-189 to repeal, in full, the monstrous health care plan. This action is necessary in the pro-life fight because 'ObamaCare' contains a very concerning loophole allowing federal funds to go towards abortion."
Bachmann's claim has been repeatedly debunked.
Bachmann noted: "The next big undertaking for Republicans is presenting a budget with billions of dollars worth of funding cuts. One obvious place to dry-up [sic] funding is Planned Parenthood."
She added, "Not only would defunding Planned Parenthood and affiliated federal grants to abortion facilities at the federal, state and local levels save us $630 million in taxpayer dollars, but its [sic] simply the moral thing to do."
LifeNews.com recently reported that the Expose Planned Parenthood Coalition, made up groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life of America, Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, Catholics Advocate, 40 Days for Life and state pro-life groups, announced that it would stage Monday vigils at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country in an attempt to keep the heat on the organization.
Gloria Feldt, author of "No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power" and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was kind enough to respond to a few questions:
"Pro-choice organizations unwittingly unleashed this onslaught when they did not vigorously and publicly hold Obama to his campaign promises from the moment he was elected," Feldt told Truthout in an email interview. "For example, he promised to make the Freedom of Choice Act a priority, support abortion coverage and lead on preventive family planning. Instead, there was a show of weakness all around. He did none of those, and he was quick to throw family planning under the bus in the first stimulus package," said Feldt.
"The Capps amendment on health reform was pure appeasement, which is never a successful political strategy," Feldt continued. "Not surprisingly, the Catholic Bishops smelled the blood of vulnerability and pounced - successfully throwing Nancy Pelosi off her game and the Stupak amendment passed the house. I knew in that moment we would see a huge upsurge in state level anti-woman legislation. Then, when the base was so discouraged with Obama's leadership that many didn't vote in 2010, it was inevitable that Congress would become more anti-woman and anti-choice."
I am a big supporter of Planned Parenthood. My wife has donated to the organization for years, and no doubt will continue to do so. We both believe in its mission and are convinced that over the years, Planned Parenthood's health care clinics have provided much-needed preventive health care, contraception, abortion services and health information to countless numbers of women, especially young and poor women who have nowhere else to turn.
In the face of these attacks, Planned Parenthood needs to be supported and defended. At the same time, however, Planned Parenthood administrators need to ensure that fail-safe procedures are in place in its clinics so that anti-abortion undercover sting operations cannot ensnare unsuspecting staff.
There are several anti-abortion bills currently under consideration in Congress, in what appears to be a full-blown renewal of the culture wars. On Friday, February 18, the House voted to cut the $317 million program for family planning, known as Title X. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Democrats still hold a small majority.
In addition, a number of states are debating severe anti-abortion legislation. For example, a South Dakota state legislator introduced a bill that could legalize the killing of abortion providers. After hearing from a number of his constituents, Republican state representative Phil Jensen has apparently backed off for the moment, telling The Washington Post's Greg Sargent that he is "eyeing changes to the language of his bill that would make it airtight that abortion providers could not be targeted in any 'justifiable homicide' protecting fetuses from the procedure."
Three of the bills in Congress, according to FRC's Perkins, were "craft[ed]" by FRC staff and "are taking direct aim at the abortion industry's cushy deal with taxpayers."
The actions against Planned Parenthood that have stirred up the biggest hornet's nest and generated the most media attention have come from Rose's group, Live Action.
Live Action is not merely a recent manifestation of conservative organizations trying to take down Planned Parenthood; it is dominating the field and rewriting the playbook. Unless you were off in the Amazon rainforest or hibernating in a cave somewhere, there's a good chance that you've heard about Live Action's latest stunt: visitors to Planned Parenthood clinics in six states "said they were seeking information about health services it could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring," read a Planned Parenthood-issued statement that described the incidents.
Rose is the founder and president of Live Action and a student activist at UCLA. In April 2009, The Los Angeles Times reported that in 2006, "when she was a UCLA freshman, she and fellow conservative activist James O'Keefe came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics. Rose, by e-mail, and O'Keefe, in a phone interview, said they were inspired by the work of Mark Crutcher, a Texas anti-abortion activist who in 2002 taped fake calls to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country featuring women posing as pregnant minors."
Rose catapulted into the national spotlight when her videos during visits to several Planned Parenthood clinics around the country started appearing on You Tube. During those visits, Rose claimed to be a teenager impregnated by an older man. She tried to get Planned Parenthood staffers or volunteers to advise her to lie about the man's age.
When asked why Live Action's videos have garnered so much media attention, Feldt pointed out that they "were good theater and the mainstream media is highly susceptible to this kind of sensational story. After digging around in the haystack for many months, setting up an entrapment, and apparently doctoring quite a few of the videos, Live Action finally appears to have found one bad apple among 10,000 Planned Parenthood staff. She was fired. Other staff is being reminded and retrained on proper procedure."
Feldt noted that the story should have ended there, "because it's the way a responsible organization works (remember Johnson and Johnson and Tylenol?)"
"And this should be a teachable moment to remind the public there are many vulnerable girls and women out there who are trafficked and abused and we all should be working on that problem," said Feldt. "Instead of giving Lila Rose (who cares nothing for these women, only wants to take away all women's right to self-determination) so much ink, why not focus on those larger problems?" she added.
As for O'Keefe, after a promising start as a developing conservative journalist/activist - when he secretly taped visits to the offices of ACORN posing as a pimp in need of services for a prostitute - O'Keefe crashed and burned after he was discovered trying to bug the office of Louisiana's Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.
Rose, however, has become the darling of the anti-abortion movement, speaking at conservative functions, receiving awards from conservative groups and getting financial support from several right-wing philanthropists.
Germain Grisez, who was a professor of Christian ethics from 1979 to 2009 at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland, disapproves of Live Action's methodology, saying it involved "deception and lying."
"Catholics should regard such activity as morally and legally unacceptable," he told the Catholic News Agency in a written statement on February 11. "From a moral point of view, I would call it scandal in the strict sense - that is, leading another to commit a sin. From a legal point of view, I would call it suborning agreement to cooperate in criminal activities."
According to the Catholic News Agency, "Rose acknowledged the seriousness of the ethical concerns raised by her fellow Catholics. But she urged them to consider Planned Parenthood's role in the deaths of millions of children, and how this extraordinary reality might inform or change activists' moral obligations. While Rose and her group are strongly opposed to violence against abortionists, she did compare the current situation to a 'just war,' in which things may be done that could not be in a time of peace."
"During times of war, espionage does take place," Rose pointed out. "Is it time, in our country, for us to use undercover work as a tactic to fight? I would say, and I think many Catholics would say, 'absolutely.'"
Regardless of what one might think of Live Action's tactics, Rose's rationales, James O'Keefe's spurious journalism, and the tapes in question - which are spliced together and suspiciously edited - or whether you think conservative propagandist Andrew Breitbart's media outlets are too closely connected to the organization to make Live Action credible, recognize this: its tactics are working; they have resulted in an extraordinary amount of media coverage and have forced Planned Parenthood to divert precious resources away from providing health care services to defending itself in the court of public opinion.
CBS Evening News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford recently reported that Planned Parenthood had "fired one worker in the videos and said it will retrain its staff." The organization also immediately reported the incidents to the Justice Department. These actions represent important steps, but more needs to be done. Planned Parenthood cannot just continue to send out fundraising letters warning of the attack against it without more effectively confronting some of its internal dysfunction.
Although Feldt pointed out that she is "five years away from the daily operations of Planned Parenthood" and isn't kept "informed," she nevertheless feels that, from her experience of over 30 years - most of which was spent running local affiliates that provide the direct health services - she is confident that "the organization [continues] to provide high quality and ethical health care."
When asked how Planned Parenthood as an organization can continue to be welcoming and supportive to young women that come to the organization in need of health care services while at the same time being aware of, and avoiding, potential sting operations, Feldt said that while "the personal, human connection is always the most important aspect of medical services, lots of training for frontline staff" is needed.
The heat is on Planned Parenthood, and it will continue to be on for the foreseeable future. Anti-choice lawmakers are seizing what they consider to be the best opportunity they have had in years to defund the organization. Anti-abortion activists are in what athletes call "the zone," where everything is going their way. There's every a possibility that some Live Action wannabe will try to come up with an even more outrageous scheme to snooker clinic workers around the country. Planned Parenthood needs to be prepared.