Saturday, February 5, 2011

FRC Action and LiveAction Host Webcast Lambasting Planned Parenthood, Part II

(To return to Part I, click here. To watch the webcast, click here.)

Next on the webcast was Marjorie Dannenfelser from the Susan B. Anthony list, an anti-abortion political action committee. Dannenfelser observed that now is a good time for anti-abortion advocate to flex the muscle built up during the November 2010 election.

Speaking alongside her was Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action. McClusky spoke approvingly of an anti-abortion organization called 40 Days for Life, which he described as group on the front lines as it prays in front of "abortuaries." He told viewers that Planned Parenthood also received funding on the state and local level, encouraging the audience to research how much local and state money was going to them.

After showing another infiltration video clip, which appeared to show a clinic employee advising the "pimp" infiltrator on hooking after an abortion, Tony Perkins read from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. After a shout-out to several anti-abortion women in politics, Dannenfelser stated that the early women's movement was rooted in fighting the exploitation of women and the treatment of women as property.

The next commentator was Steve Wagner, former director of the HHS Human Trafficking Program and president of the Renewal Forum, an anti-trafficking organization. Wagner observed that there is an epidemic of human trafficking in the U.S., and after watching the video segment, he said that the video looked like facilitation of human trafficking. Three things about the video segment disturbed him. First, he observed no effort to rescue the girls involved in trafficking, which was troubling because medical professions have an obligation to report the abuse of minors. Second, he was alarmed that the clinic worker seemed to be facilitating trafficking. Third, he frowned upon many people's misunderstandings about prostitution, which he described as a series of rapes for the prostituted women and girls involved. In a jab at at pro-choice advocates, Wagner claimed that the people who think women have the right to suffer the "trauma"of abortion also have the right to prostitute themselves.

This, of course, is false -- many pro-choice people are well aware of the harm involved in prostitution and trafficking. Simply put, Wagner is incorrect in assuming that pro-choice people automatically support prostitution as a "right."

Wagner added that many people assume that prostitution is glamorous, the way it is depicted in the film Pretty Woman, when in reality, trafficking victims are exposed to constant trauma. Lila Rose chimed in, claiming that minors having sex with older people is not seen as a big deal at Planned Parenthood, supposedly.

Next on the itinerary was David Bereit of the anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life, who described the content of the LiveAction infiltration videos as "shocking" and "repulsive." Bereit accused Planned Parenthood of abetting slavery and empowering those who exploit girls, saying that no parent should trust Planned Parenthood with their daughter. Outrageously, he accused Planned Parenthood of trying to drive a wedge between parents and their children, which he claims they have done throughout their history. Pimps and others who profit from sexual slavery benefit from this supposed wedge, he insisted, stressing his support for parental notification laws.

I have yet to see any evidence that Planned Parenthood is systematically trying to alienate young people from their parents. To boot, Bereit apparently has not considered why a girl might be reluctant to tell her parents about an abortion: if her parents are unsupportive or cruel, for example, or if a sexually abusive parent is the reason why she got pregnant.

Tony Perkins fielded a question from a viewer who asked if an entire organization should be ostracized over the actions of one rogue employee. Rose responded that the content of the LiveAction videos and lawsuits are evidence that problems are supposedly institutional.

Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest and Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright joined the webcast via Skype. Yoest reminder viewers about Title X federal funding for Planned Parenthood and stressed their goal of defunding the organization. She called on Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood, hoping to see the head of the organization come before Congress and answer questions. Yoest compared Lila Rose to Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle who brought attention to the deplorable conditions of the meat packing industry.

Wendy Wright stated that because trafficking victims will eventually end up pregnant, traffickers seek out abortions for them to maximize their marketability in prostitution. Because of this, doctors should be looking out for potential trafficking victims, and she lambasted the clinic staffer in the video for advising the false pimp. Planned Parenthood, she claimed, has shown who it's really partnering with.

McClusky brought up the case involving Kermit Gosnell's abortion clinic in Philadelphia, saying that while Gosnell's office wasn't under the auspices of Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood supposedly created a culture that allowed this sort of thing to occur. In saying this, McClusky ignored the distinction between safe abortions rooted in an empowerment model and what reportedly went on at Gosnell's office. To boot, he ignored the fact at least one woman sought an abortion at Gosnell's office because she was afraid of anti-abortion protesters at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. To lump Planned Parenthood together with Gosnell is, in my opinion, facile.

Dannenfelser added that Planned Parenthood provides mostly abortion services, with very little attention to prenatal and other services because abortion is allegedly big business. This statement is patently false -- according to Planned Parenthood's 2008 annual report, most of the services it provided were cancer screenings, contraception, and STD testing and treatment, with abortions counting for only 3% of its services. Opponents of Planned Parenthood often forget that it provides valuable urological and gynecological care at little or no cost to many communities.

Perkins offered several action steps for political activism, including prayer, educating oneself and others, supporting crisis pregnancy centers, and contacting lawmakers regarding H.R. 217. McClusky urged viewers to write and call members of Congress. In reference to H.R. 217, he noted that while the legislation will most likely be vetoed by the "pro-abortion" president, it will still send a message.

The final speaker featured in the webcast was Taryn Mastrean, program associate from Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization. Mastrean provided human trafficking statistics and discussed ways that girls and women become ensnared in sex trafficking. She offered a three-pronged approach to anti-trafficking advocacy: training and awareness, restoration (i.e., helping groups that provide direct services to victims), and justice through law enforcement and legislation.

I had very mixed feelings about the presence of a Shared Hope International staffer in a webcast hosted by Family Research Council and LiveAction. On one hand, Mastrean's words were reasonable, and she did an effective job of briefing viewers on the dynamics of trafficking. Refreshingly, her focus was not on abortion or Planned Parenthood, but on effective responses to trafficking. On the other hand, I was baffled as to why a member of a respected anti-trafficking organization would participate in a webcast with two right-wing groups, one of which (Family Research Council) has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Was Mastrean there simply to educate a new audience about trafficking, or did her presence suggest that Shared Hope is on friendly terms with FRC Action and LiveAction? I don't know.

In conclusion, the February 3rd webcast used LiveAction's recent videos as an opportunity to lambaste Planned Parenthood and renew calls for its defunding. Equally worrisome is how several webcast guests accused Planned Parenthood of abetting trafficking, using the trafficking issue as a wedge to generate antipathy toward the organization.

The February 3rd webcast is not the end of the story, however. Several progressive organizations, including NARAL, Sierra Club, and People for the American Way,  signed onto a letter defending Planned Parenthood and opposing efforts to defund it. With regard to a LiveAction video secretly shot in a Virginia clinic, some commentators argue that it shows no wrongdoing on the part of the Planned Parenthood staffer. In spite of LiveAction's best efforts to discredit Planned Parenthood, the struggle for reproductive rights continues.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

AlterNet: The Right-Wing Dough Supporting the 'Stings' at Planned Parenthood

People for the American Way: Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

Right Wing Watch: Lila Rose Is "the Upton Sinclair of this Generation"

Media Matters: Why Is Live Action Doctoring Its Planned Parenthood Audio?

Media Matters: Right-Wing Media Attack Planned Parenthood For VA Video Showing No Wrongdoing

Media Matters: The "Sting" That Wasn't: Right-wing Media Hype Bogus Version Of Planned Parenthood Video Story

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