Anti-abortion and conservative Christian groups have expressed alarm at the latest videos by LiveAction, an anti-abortion group that infiltrates abortion clinics. LiveAction claims that its recent videos show Planned Parenthood employees in Virginia and New Jersey helping an infiltrator (posing as a pimp) arrange abortions for young victims of sex trafficking. The manager depicted in the New Jersey video has since been fired. Planned Parenthood reported the suspected trafficking to the FBI, as stated on its website, and had requested an official FBI probe.
On February 3rd, Family Research Council Action and LiveAction co-sponsored a webcast called "Expose Planned Parenthood," highlighting the videos and condemning Planned Parenthood for allegedly abetting sexual abuse and trafficking. Between interviews with anti-abortion voices, the webcast played short segments of the controversial LiveAction videos. I watched the webcast, facilitated by Tony Perkins and Lila Rose, here.
Tony Perkins, president of FRC Action, began the webcast by stating that LiveAction's videos depict what could be considered "a criminal conspiracy" to facilitate child prostitution and sex trafficking. Lila Rose, president and founder of LiveAction, referred to Planned Parenthood as an "abortion chain" and lamented that the organization reportedly received a third of its budget from taxpayer dollars. Claiming that Planned Parenthood doesn't care about girls, Rose accused the organization of institutionally covering up the sexual abuse of minors and creating a "safe haven for human traffickers."
Perkins spoke positively of H.R. 217, the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, authored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana). H.R. 217 would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from providing federal family planning funds to entities that provide abortions. Much of the webcast would emphasize the goal of eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood, bringing up H.R. 217 several times.
The first speaker interviewed by Perkins and Rose was Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee turned anti-abortion advocate. Johnson claimed that the exchanges in the LiveAction videos were not isolated incidents, but were common at Planned Parenthood clinics, which she accused of scrubbing their records and tweaking information to cover up sexual abuse of underage girls. Even more outrageously, Johnson accused Planned Parenthood staff of encouraging and even coercing females into having abortions. Minors in particular were encouraged to have abortions because of their vulnerability, she claimed, adding that "We are all good salespeople at Planned Parenthood." Planned Parenthood, Johnson insisted, was a haven for those trying to cover up the sexual abuse of young women.
Perkins mused that there seems to be a race element to Planned Parenthood's mission, to which Rose responded that the organization supposedly had racist, eugenics-oriented roots. This attempt to drive a wedge between people of color and the reproductive rights movement is nothing new, as this blog and others have observed.
Next, the webcast featured a pre-recorded statement by Alveda King, prominent anti-abortion activist and niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr. King praised LiveAction for its infiltration videos and encouraged the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Echoing earlier accusations of racism, she claimed that most Planned Parenthood clinics are located near communities of color or college campuses in an effort to target those populations for abortions. Planned Parenthood, she insisted, was "doling out death, doling out pain," harming women's bodies as they supposedly coerced, tricked, or fooled women into abortions.
After King's message, the webcast showed a pre-recorded interview with Rep. Mike Pence, author of H.R. 217. Pence said that he was outraged by what he saw in the LiveAction videos, which he claimed was evidence of a Planned Parenthood aiding and abetting criminal behavior. He argued in favor of denying Planned Parenthood any federal funding under Title X, frustrated that what he called the largest abortion provider in the country was also the largest recipient of Title X funds. To those who argue that Title X funds do not directly fund abortion, Pence claimed that Planned Parenthood is still using those monies to fund its clinics, thereby freeing up other monies to fund abortions. Insisting that most Americans taxpayers do not want their taxes to "subsidize" abortion, he proudly discussed the support that H.R. 217 had found among House members.
The anti-abortion rhetoric of the webcast was familiar enough: demonization of Planned Parenthood, calls to cut off its funding, claims that it harms women and minorities, and so forth. Perkins, Rose, and other guests made outrageous claims against the organization, but instead of using the usual anti-abortion rhetoric about saving fetuses, they claimed to be protecting women and girls. Inconvenient facts, such as Planned Parenthood's reporting of suspected trafficking to the FBI, were ignored in favor of an ominous narrative.
The webcast's rhetoric about human trafficking led to an "a-ha" moment for me. For some time, conservative Christian efforts against human trafficking perplexed me. On one hand, I was relieved to see them raising awareness of the horrors of human trafficking, which has ruined so many lives. On the other hand, I always wondered if there was an agenda behind some conservative Christians' anti-trafficking rhetoric. Tonight, I got my answer. It seems that some right-wing anti-abortion groups are trying to delegitimize Planned Parenthood by accusing it of abetting sex trafficking, just as they have accused abortion providers of racism, eugenics, and other smears.
I'm not suggesting that all Christians anti-trafficking activists have this in mind. Many genuinely want to help trafficking victims and are making heroic efforts to combat trafficking. Rather, it seems that some right-wing Christian groups are trying to use trafficking as yet another rallying cry against abortion, which does a disservice to trafficking victims.
Part II discusses other voices from the webcast, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, and more.
For additional commentary, visit the following links:
Right Wing Watch: Far-Right Already Using LiveAction's Smear Campaign to Push Anti-Choice Legislation
People for the American Way: Deceptive Video "Sting" Attacking Planned Parenthood: Dishonest Hit Job is Part of Religious Right's Campaign to Deny Women Access to Reproductive Health Care
Media Matters: HOAX VIDEO EXPOSED: Planned Parenthood Already Reported "Sex Trafficking" to FBI
RH Reality Check: Second "Explosive(!)" "Shocking(!)" Live Action Video Reveals...Health Workers Providing Care!
RH Reality Check: "Sex Traffickers" Target Planned Parenthood in Possible Live Action Films Hoax